Gardening makes my spirits soar. I love watching my favorite piece of earth respond to the combination of sunlight, water, warm spring days and basic nutrients by producing squash, peppers, root crops and sweet corn plus big plump heirloom tomatoes.
I was disappointed by last year’s garden. Burrowing rodents attacked en masse, wiping out virtually all of my vegetables before I could bring them to my family’s table. I was really bummed when I noticed that my Mortgage Lifter heirlooms produced only a couple of fruits before the vines were toppled by marauding squirrels and voles.
I spent part of my dormant season reading everything I could about increasing heirloom tomato production. A fellow gardener showed me a picture of his fully burdened Mortgage Lifter heirlooms and suggested that in 2013 I try to graft heirloom scions onto established beef steak tomato root
I know how to graft plants. My favorite avocados here are a hybrid Reed fruit I’ve grafted onto Fuertes root stock. I’m starting my tomato grafting project on a small scale. I’ve successfully grafted Seven scions so far and they’re beginning to set fruit. Three of the grafted plants have five fruits each
and all of them have additional set buds.
Grafting is a simple process and is something most back or front yard gardeners can learn very quickly. In addition to root stock and same-age plants as scion sources, all it takes is very sharp blade and inexpensive grafting clips to bind the grafted stock to the host vine. Heirloom tomato grafting can increase fruit production and in many cases also results in plants that are more resistant to various conditions that effect production.
There is a second method of grafting I’m going to try. I’ve been told it works well with heirloom varities such as San Marzano tomatoes. As improbable as it seems,you can “graft” vines that produce small to mid-sized fruits using whole partially sprouting potatoes.
You start with a long potato such as a Russet and drill a whole lengthwise through it. Then you insert the tomato vine into the whole and secure it in the tuber. The only example of this grafting technique I’ve seen was an early girl, which produced about 20 fruits. I have no idea how the tomatoes tasted, but I was really impressed with the vine’s production.
Grafting is a proven method for developing plants that suit your individual garden and tastes. But it’s not a bad way to produce Frankenfruit at home.
I’ve spent a lot of time this Spring resolving my burrowing rodent problems. I began by building
and installing an owl nesting box on the front of my garage, overlooking my garden. A local barn owl occasionally hangs out in it now and the numerous owl casings on the edge of my roof are loaded with vole skulls and squirrel bones.
To further reduce my squirrel population, I bought a live trap called the “Squirrelinator.”
The trap works extremely well. Over the course of the last three weeks, I'vec trapped 37 squirrels (all of which I’ve released in an abandoned orchard near my house).
While most of my tomatoes are in planters this year, I have melons, squash, peppers and other vegetables in a 20-by 20-foot dirt plot. Thus far, not one of my dirt planted vegetables has been attacked by voles. But it’s still early in the year.
Hoe in hand, and mobile computer set up in my patio, I’m gardening once again in the warm San Diego Spring sunshine. Jim Forbes on April, 29, 2013.