Separated at Birth

Publish date:

Early this summer I received two free tomato plants from Log House Plants, a wholesale grower based in Oregon. They are both the same variety—'Big Beef'—but there's an important difference between the plants. One is a SuperNaturals Mighty 'Mato grafted plant. In it, a 'Big Beef' stem has been grafted onto the roots of another variety with greater vigor and disease resistance. The other is a plain ol' 'mato. The idea is that the grafted plant will perform better because it draws strength from its rootstock, resulting in heartier plants with greater yields. The folks at Log House sent both the Mighty 'Mato and the nongrafted plant so I could see the difference for myself.

Well, we're only partway through the growing season here in New England, but I wanted to let you all know how they are doing so far. This is my first time growing tomatoes, so in some ways I'm a good tester and in some ways bad. Good because if it all works out they can be labeled foolproof. Bad because there's more chance of "operator error" derailing this whole experiment.

My first mistake was planting these guys in 15-inch containers. You know, the voice in the back of my head told me to check to see if they were determinate or indeterminate first. Since indeterminate plants keep on growing until frost kills them, a 15-inch container is too small. But I forged ahead. Later I learned they are indeed indeterminate and a whiskey half barrel is the smallest pot recommended, and without enthusiasm. They're really best in the ground. (I know people usually say "half whiskey barrel" but that always sounds funny to me. What's the other half, Coke?)

A couple months later, they seem to have determined it's time to stop growing since their shoes are so tight. I'm relieved; I was picturing them needing to be tethered to the roof gutter. The Mighty 'Mato does seem slightly taller and certainly bushier. It has produced more flower clusters and is developing more tomatoes so far.

The Mighty 'Mato is on the left. It is a fuller plant overall.

The Mighty 'Mato is on the left. It is a fuller plant overall.

Every time I water them, I count the developing tomatoes, but by the time I get inside I can't remember. I know the Mighty 'Mato has always been two or three ahead. It will be easier to keep track once they are ready to pick.

An exciting event in the lives of "the twins," as I've taken to calling them, came in a wind gust. THUMP! I looked out the window and they were lying on the ground. Two tomatoes had been knocked off the nongrafted plant. (I noted this for the final tally.) I moved them from the top of the retaining wall, which keeps our front yard from falling into the driveway, to the driveway itself. This placement makes backing out a real white-knuckler!

In another event, in a rainstorm (the same one that busted through our ceiling, I think) the nongrafted plant lost a branch. A-ha, the weaker twin!

So that's where we stand. I am trying to get around to pruning them to improve airflow and direct more energy toward fruit production. I guess I have picked up a thing or two about growing tomatoes, after all. I will keep you posted on how the rest of their summer goes!