Saturday, November 23, 2013

Roots, both Edible and Incredible

How do you know you are getting a bit behind in garden chores? When the 2014 seed catalogs start arriving and you have not completed cleaning out the garden beds! I was enjoying the newly arrived Pinetree and High Mowing  catalogs when I realized I have not finished my chores with this year’s garden. We already had a garden work day but I spent more time helping put a wood chip border around our deer fence to protect the fragile plastic mesh deer fencing fabric from the town’s mowers than cleaning up my own plot.


We always recommend gardeners pull disease-prone plants like tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers and dispose of them in the trash, the task I had yet to finish in my own garden beds. So today I headed to the garden with a black plastic trash bag. My first discovery was a pleasant one. I had left some Golden Ball turnips in the ground after pulling the larger ones and they survived nicely. I now have a nice batch of turnips to use for Thanksgiving dinner.




Next I pulled all the dead solanaceous and cucurbit plants. The plants were dead brown stems, the leaves long blown away. The biggest distinguishing characteristic was the roots, and how easy or hard it was to pull the plant. Particularly interesting to me was to compare the root structures of the grafted tomato plants to the ungrafted control plant. I have already declared the grafted tomato experiment a failure, and I won’t be planting them next year. Looking at the root balls, you can see why. Below is a photo of the Juliet tomatoes. The ungrafted tomato is the one at the top.




Alright, maybe I should have removed the fabric from the grafted tomato, but roots are supposed to grow through it and actually did. Also notice the size of the stems. The ungrafted Juliet at the top was grown in a 4 inch pot by a neighbor and was a beautiful transplant with a thick, stocky stem flushed with red. The grafted tomato was a mail order plant and arrived as a small, spindly plant and was never going to compete effectively with my locally grown ungrafted plant. Next I pulled the Big Beef tomatoes, shown below.




Again, the ungrafted Big Beef is the plant on the top. The Big Beef grafted plant was a bit more successful than the pathetic Juliet grafted plant, but did not compare well to the ungrafted Big Beef. So much for the theory that the rootstock used for grafted tomatoes is far more vigorous and  produces huge root volumes. In my case, that clearly is not true, but there must be a reason. Commercial growers are huge consumers of grafted plants, so it must work in the right conditions. For the time being, I will sit out the grafting experiment and go with ungrafted plants next year.


  1. Interesting! The grafted plants are being pushed very heavily here. I think the real issue is the added value from the retailers, point of view. I have not tried them yet, and after reading your post, I probably won't. As a matter of interest, do you think that growing tomato plants in small pots is better than in big ones? I have heard that ones in small pots "work harder" than those in bigger pots, and produce better yields.

    1. I don't think the pot size matters as long as the roots are healthy and the plant is vigorous. The theory I have heard is you want to transplant when the roots have reached the pot, but before they start girdling themselves. This spring I had to pot up because I couldn't transplant in the cold, wet weather we had.

  2. Wonderful to find turnips while cleaning up.
    Interesting about grafting.
    Made me feel motivated to try grafting a few cosmos plants to cheat faster way to make the garden more colourful and for the bees.
    It is monsoon season at the moment, humidity is also high, many of our cosmos the stems are growing roots in the air especially between new junction of stem which can be cut and produce new plant.
    A few tomato plants are doing the same thing as well.

    1. Yes, the plant tries to bypass the graft and send out its own roots. Those have to be removed so they don't reach the soil since they will allow disease to enter the plant from the soil. Actually, grafted plants are widely used commercially in your area of the world because soil disease is a big problem. That is the main reason for using them.


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