Thursday, January 16, 2014


"Hes a Bad Mutha...
Shut your Mouth!
But I'm just talkin' 'bout Graft!
We can dig it!"

Welcome back to the second of forty-six episodes of the 2014 edition of Lost In The Farmers Market. For those of you just tuning into this web log LITFM discusses the ongoing trials of the test gardens, the horticultural trends and other associated stuff about sustainability and organic gardening practices. With that said we have a rather interesting topic for today’s post as we will be talking about the new trend in mail order catalogs and garden centers. Today’s topic is a look at grafted vegetable plants, including a cost comparison against conventional plants. As always the Farmer’s Market Information will be posted with a plant list so you can check out the winter goods.

The commercial sale of grated vegetables is a relatively new thing first appearing in mail order seed catalogs about three years ago. At first it only appeared in the catalogs we at LITFM didn’t order but has finally appeared in the ones we intentionally order so of course someone must be making a buck off it. A grafted vegetable is either a tomato, eggplant or pepper plant where the top half of the plant (scion) is attached to a rootstock of the same species. Basically you have one specific variety of say tomato rootstock with a brandywine type tomato growing top. The variety of scion stock is limited at this time as most sources indicate twenty varieties of tomato scion, three of peppers and two of eggplant. The scion varieties are pretty common and can be bought as seed anywhere and grown relatively easy from seed. For reference the varieties as see are as follows.

  1. Tomato – Amish Paste, Big Beef Hybrid, Big Zac Hybrid, Blush Tiger, Brandywine, Celebrity Hybrid, Cherokee Purple, Defiant Hybrid, Delicious, Early Girl Hybrid, Goliath Hybrid, Indigo Apple, Indigo Rose, Jet Setter Hybrid, Juliet Hybrid, Momotaro Hybrid, Mortgage Lifter, Pink Berkeley Tie Die, Sun Sugar Hybrid and Sweet Aperitif.
  2. Peppers – Big Bertha Hybrid, Golden Bell, Jalapeno and, King Arthur Hybrid.
  3. Eggplant – Epic Hybrid (aka dusky) and, Ping Tung.

So as you can see all the varieties are not much to write home about, they’re well proven, well known and of course fairly safe. This selection is a good marketing strategy, because it does create some name recognition so the option reaches a bigger target audience. However when you really look into the nature of these grafts you notice a trend. For instance in the three seed catalogs that arrived at the test gardens this year the advertisements for the grafted plants are word-for word nearly identical event he page layout is identical which suggests the sellers had to make certain agreements to carry the plants as a distributor. This sort of thing is common with trademarked, patented or copywrite materials and is no real surprise. With more examination you find the prices, all of them sell at the same rate, two plants of your choice for $16.95, with additional plants selling at $7.50.  Also the plants are shipped in 2” containers with specific growing instructions included. Often the seed catalogs will offer a mix of grafted and starter plants as well urging gardeners to compare the two for $14.95 per group of plants. This move is also well played, but one has to ask, have they treated the normal starter plants they sell this way with anything as Bonnie plants tends to do? All one really clever business would have to do here is to treat the starters with a slow release growth retardant and suddenly of course the grafts are going to do better. For the sake of argument we’ll assume no funny business and continue on to where these plants originate.

If you notice on each such advertisement there is a black and white logo that has a big ‘S’ and says Super Naturals. Super naturals is the company that does all the grafting and growing. That said I cannot find a locationfor where Super Naturals is based out of other then that they are the result of the collaborative effort of Plug connection, Garden Life and Log House Plants. Their source for seed is A.P. Whaley, and the source for their Root Stock is territorial Seed Company. The links for all three are below in order of mentions.

A extended search of A.P. Whaley reveals they are largely about selling seed, but are not in any way organic, and have no mentions of if or if not their plant and seed stock is G.M.O. modified or contaminated. Likewise Territorial Seed company sells organic plants but seems to possess no organic certification nor any assurance of using clean plant or seed stock. In fact this leads to another question the specific root stock sold by Territorial is called ‘Super natural’ and is protected by law. I called Territorial to ask about where there root stock originated and they could not tell me. I asked if the rootstock was G.M.O. free or organic and gain no real solid answer. So we don’t know where the rootstock came from. In the same way it is not clear if the seed from A.P. Whaley is clean since they did not indicate either way and Super Naturals proper has no contact number so we can’t call and ask what practices were used to grow their grafted crops.

However, on a trip like this we must see how far the rabbit hole goes and such a trip leads up to the next two points of reference. The instructions for taking care of these grafted plants are a little bit odd. For instance; the instructions say that the tomato must be planted with the graft point above the soil line. This means that depending on where the graft is, you may not be able to use the old plant it an inch deep on the stem method to promote an additional layer of roots. The pictures of the graft are all identical and it seems to demonstrate that the graft is about an inch or so above the soil line, though admittedly there is no object in the picture of comparison to verify this. The logic noted behind this is sound, if the scion (top) is in contact with moisture for any long period it will try and create roots which will negate the value of the graft. More so you apparently have to worry about the root stock trying to create leaves so additional pruning care and once the plant is tall enough Supernaturals suggests  that once the plant is big enough you remove all leaves on the lower 10-12 inches of the plant’s stem and keep it that way. There are other growing suggestions like being careful not to bend the graft point when transplanting, and to avoid over fertilization and use a 15-gallon ‘wine barrel’ type planter. Honestly, the only things in the entire growing instructions worth of note is not to damage the graft, and not to plant too deeply.

This leads to a discussion of the economics of grafted ‘annual’ plants. Now on a perennial plant such as a rose or cherry tree the benefits of a graft are very clear, the long term productivity is very much worth the added cost of the graft. Twenty or so years of harvests will pay for the cost many times over. On a tomato in general use most people grow it as an annual; this may be due to a lack of skill, knowledge or indoor space to overwinter their tomatoes. For that we cannot fault the majority of growers in the case of farms, the cost of obtaining these plants is likely prohibitive so they too must get a pass. For the rest of you out there the problem economically with grafted plants is the cost. You get two plants in 2” pots for $16.95, not counting shipping which is often about $5.00 for just those two plants. So per plant you are talking $10.98 give or take a fraction of a cent. To get the right amount of soil it’s going to cost about $2.12 per plant and the cost of your pot may range from $7.49 for a 14” plastic pot to $32.08 for a wooden whiskey barrel planter. So the minimum total per plant is now $20.59 not counting your choice of fertilizer, tomato cage and any other additional materials you may decide to buy. At most the total is $45.18 and none of this includes the cost of fuel to get to the store to buy the pot, soil and other items.  In short you are putting out a lot of your hard-earned cash for a ‘maybe’.  Now to compare, if you simply bought tomatoes of the same variety from a store like say bLowes,  an individual plant  in a 2”-3” pot might cost about $3.20,  and then the pot and soil would be the same so the total cost would range from $12.81 to $37.40 which is pretty significant. For the cost of potting one grafted plant up the cheapest way possible you can almost pot up two normal plants. For the cost of potting one grafted plant up with a barrel planter you can do the same thing with a grafted plant and still have enough left over to cover your gas to get to the store without going over the cost of the grafted plant.

In short while grafted plants seem to be very good and such from a cost perspective there is no evidence to support their legitimacy. All other aspects must be tested in field conditions against a duplicate plant of the same type as the scion. The successful comparison of plants must be done with equal exposure, feeding and care. To the point, we at LITFM will be testing this under field conditions as a part of a triple study. The three comparisons will be 1 grafted plant versus 1 non-grafted scion plant versus 1 wild study plant. The results should be available later in the year and you will get an update posted here when we start. That said we must shift over to the market information. As some of you may know the Fayetteville City/Farmer’s Market occurs every Saturday from 9:00 AM through 1:00 PM. The market is located at 325 Franklin Street in the parking lot of the Fayetteville Transportation museum and there is no shortage of parking in the area. Here is what will be coming to the Market this week.

Southward Skies: A northern guide to southern Gardening
This is the second edition of my book, which was published using data compiled from several years of test garden operations. It’s written to aid gardeners of all skill levels in successful garden methods that are targeted for the southeast but had proven to be a valued resource for gardens across the eastern coast. It’s certainly a good gift for that gardener you know or for yourself if you’d like to have a reliable field guide. The book costs $25.00 and we do take checks for this item, you can even have it signed.

Black Magic Fertilizer
That’s right you’ve heard about it in trials all summer. This specially formulated liquid fertilizer was made and tested at the test gardens using natural ingredients and no chemicals. The result explosive growth, great harvests and of course no environmental side effects! We’re making batches of this stuff to order, at $6.00 per gallon of fertilizer. You can either order it at the market and pick it up the next week or have it delivered to your home in the Fayetteville area for a delivery charge of an additional $2.00.

Fresh Cut Herbs
Bundles of Fresh Rosemary, short stem

House Plants
9x Holiday Cactus (Deep Pink bloom)

Garden Plants
4x Morris-Heading Cabbage Collards
3x Georgia Collards
1x Stonehead Cabbage
1x Savoy Cabbage

This concludes a surprisingly long episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market We hope you found the information as presented useful in deciding some of your garden plans for 2014. I hope you check back in next week when the discussion heads towards the nature of what Genetically Modified Organism actually means. Thank you for reading, and as always Keep ‘em Growing!

Toe-may-toe or Toe-mah-toe, it doesn’t matter just as long as you’re not getting ripped off when you buy ‘em!

Update: Something I forgot!
Precipitation for the last Week was spread across three days, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. A averaged total of 4.65" of rain fell during these events.

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