“Off with their heads” and other tales of propagation

Lots going on in our heated propagation hoophouse these days — filling plug trays, making mini soilblocks for seeding, placing tiny seeds on those soilblocks to germinate, and transplanting, transplanting, transplanting . . .

Tomato surgery

Grafting, step 1: “Off with their head”

Tomato surgery

Grafting, step 2: the transplant.

Tomato surgery

Success! The patients resting in the recovery room.

Yet one of the more exciting things we do is graft our hoophouse tomato plants. We grow a specific variety of tomato that grows vigorously and has good disease resistance . . . but the fruits are not particularly tasty: these are our rootstock.

We also grow all our favorite, delicious heirloom varieties which have great flavor but lack in yield and disease resistance. When both sets of seedlings are still small, we take the rootstock plants, place them one by one on our workbench, and, calling fourth our inner Queen of Hearts, yell “off with their heads” and with a sharp razor blade, remove the top of the plant with a diagonal cut with and toss it unceremoniously over our shoulder.

We then select a yummy heirloom seedling with a stem that closely matches the size of the rootstock, remove the top in a similar fashion (usually without the fanfare), and instead of throwing top over our shoulder, we carefully place it on the waiting rootstock and with a little plastic clip, attach the two parts together.

We keep the plants in the dark and at high humidity while they heal together and recover. This sets the plants back a bit, so it means we start our seeds earlier than we would otherwise. It is certainly extra work and effort, but we usually have a pretty good success bringing our little ones through the surgery and sure it is all worth it in the end when the tomato harvest starts to come in!

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