The Grafted Tomato Challenge


Okay, Log House Plants, I’m in.  This Oregon nursery has developed a line of grafted tomato plants that they have branded “Mighty ‘Mato.”   As I understand it, these tomatoes are available online this year and are starting to be distributed at independent garden centers.

The idea is this:  Commercial tomato farmers already graft their tomatoes onto modern, disease-resistant rootstock that is intended to not only help fight disease but also increase yield and survive temperature swings and other such abuses. Just as roses and fruit trees are grafted onto modern rootstock, so, apparently, can tomatoes, eggplant, pepper, melon, cucumber, squash, and (I hear, but have not yet seen) basil.

Alice Doyle, the owner of Log House Plants, has talked to me about these grafted vegetables a few times and she knows well the challenges I face:  living eight blocks from the giant air conditioner known as the Pacific Ocean means that temps never, ever exceed 80 degrees in my backyard, and tend to hover around 70 all summer long.  It’s not prime tomato-growing weather. Add to that the soil-borne diseases that turn healthy green tomatoes into black monstrosities overnight late in the season, and–well, let’s just say I support my local farmers who have the sense to live inland, where proper summer weather can be found.  I have more or less given up on growing tomatoes.

So.  I (along with a lot of other garden bloggers, I suspect) have been sent two tomatoes to test:  A grafted ‘Big Beef’ and an ungrafted ‘Big Beef’.  I’ve planted them side-by-side in identical containers, where they can get the best sun and heat my sad little fog-bound garden can offer. The grafted version is on the right, and the ungrafted version is in the middle.  (On the left is a Sweet 100 cherry tomato I bought at my local garden center on impulse.)

Normally I would never attempt to grow a tomato with a name like ‘Big Beef.’  I’d try a cherry tomato or a small cool-weather variety like San Francisco Fog.  I mentioned that to Alice and she promptly popped a few more varieties in the mail.  More on those next week.

Meanwhile, here’s the test setup.  I’ll report back throughout the summer.


For the complete list of grafted tomato varieties, go here and look at page 3.  Although the cost is higher, I’d happily pay a little extra for a tomato that actually produced food I can eat. The 2-in-1 (two tomato varieties on one rootstock) are a great idea, especially for containers and hanging baskets.  And I am wildly excited about the basil, which is the other plant I desperately need but simply can’t grow in the chilly weather.

If anyone else is trying out these grafted vegetables, please do let us know where your reports on the experiment can be found.



  1. Can’t wait to see how the side-by-side comparison fares.

    I didn’t know they did eggplant! And peppers! If my grafted tomatoes turn out as well as I hope, perhaps I’ll finally have a garden with some of the foods I actually eat, besides massive amounts of kale and Swiss chard.

  2. i can see the value of grafting for perennial crops, but it is hard to imagine the cost benefit. I will certainly be watching to see how it works out.

  3. I love those blue pots, but I’m wondering if it wouldn’t have been better to put them in black pots, like your cherry tomato, so the soil would warm up in the sun. Oh wait, you don’t get much sun, right?

    Have you ever tried Siletz tomatoes? They are tried and true up here in Oregon (not sure how they do in a fog belt though).

  4. Last summer I received some of LHP’s grafted tomatoes in a GardenRant giveaway and planted them in the school garden in late August. They were a BIG hit & did noticeably better than the non-grafted plants that had been in the ground slightly longer. After a cool Summer and a warm Autumn, we picked the last tomato (appropriately named Snow Queen) after we came back from Thanksgiving break !

    We’re getting a late start again on the garden this year, so I’m thinking we’ll invest in a few more grafted veggies from LHP. Kids & parents alike were impressed with last year’s crop.

  5. FYI – You can graft tomatoes onto tobacco root stock too, but this is not recommended even though you won’t have any trouble with tomato hornworms as a result. Nicotine is synthesized in the roots, so your tomatoes will have an extra zing and be addictive.

  6. I heard about grafting tomatoes and thought I would give it a try. I see yours is ‘Big Beef’ on a “special rootstock.” I grew ‘Big Beef’ for the rootstock (it was recommended somewhere) and grafted on various heirloom varieties. It was quite easy, and I learned a few what-not-to-dos for next year.

  7. It’s chilly and never goes above 70 degrees?! Can we switch homes then…?! I live in New England, NJ to be exact… where next week our average is going to be in the mid to high 90’s, with oh… probably 100% humidity.
    I’ll take the cooler CA weather ANY DAY. /weep
    Although I do grow good a good tomato… DECISIONS!!!

    This grafting sounds really interesting… I had a tomato last year, “Pink Ponderosa” from Baker Creek, it was REALLY vigorous and was the last of my tomatoes to get any sort of wilt… maybe I will try to graft with it… cue the mad scientist evil cackle now!

  8. LOL I don’t ever think I have ever heard anyone say they were scared to plant tomatoes, let alone “Big Beef” Tomatoes… I look forward to seeing end result!

  9. Alas my grafted tomatoes last year did not make it, because they were sent in the middle of summer–too late for our surprisingly short tomato season here in north Florida. We have plenty of sun, but the nighttime temps are routinely higher than 70 degrees and the fruits don’t set, but the wilts do set in and do in our plants.

    At this point we have a few brandy boy and early girl tomato plants left and the rest are cherry tomatoes. I’m trying the tiny Everglades tomato this year to see if it will go through the summer as advertised.

    I bought some nice-looking tomatoes at a local farmers market last summer and asked about how he could get them to grow here through the summer. His answer was simple, he brought them in from Kentucky. so much for local…

  10. Amy, I’m doing the challenge as well and can’t wait to see the difference. For whatever reason, I always have mediocre results with my tomatoes so this oughtta be good. Results to come….

  11. I’ve tried grafting for a couple of seasons now and no doubt the plants are more vigorous and produce more. Its not that hard to do buy some rootstock from Johnnys (Beaufort or Maxifort) a razor blade and some clips or at worse some insulation tape and you should be fine.
    I’ve grown tomatoes outdoors in an english climate for several years where 70’s would be a cause for celebration have you tried varieties such as Stupice,oregon spring which seemed to produce well if they don’t succumb to blight from the damp weather. One trick I saw in Mendocino botanic gardens was growing oregon spring under fleece covers and slitting the fleece so that as they grow thye pour out of the slits bu since they are quite low growing most of the plant was still under the fleece, they seemed to have quite a bit of fruit. Failing that get a greenhouse, its amazing how many plants you can fir in small 6×8.

  12. I wonder what stock they are grafted onto? The Matts wild cherry has is a great tomato for here in Memphis, TN, but has not much flavor. But it survived and produced prolifically in my garden last year after self seeding from the year before. I just didn’t have time to garden while I managed a new farmers market in town, so was amazed that with NO watering it was happy as a pig in X&%$! (I hope you know southern dialect well enough to fill in the last word !) Anyway, I’m thinking that it would be a good one to graft onto…

  13. I have good luck with Stupice as my early tom. It isn’t the absolute best for flavor but it grows just fine in low temps and I get ripe fruit by the end of May. I just want someone to tell me how to pronounce it, I’ve heard stuh-piss and stew-peesh and don’t know which one is right.

    If I was short on space I would graft onto a disease resistant potato so that I could harvest two crops from the same plant (its been done a million times before).

    A lot of the diseases in my garden are transmitted by water dripping or splashing from one leaf to another, or from insects. Disease resistant rootstock will only solve half the problem.

  14. Amy’s report last year on Garden Rant was the first place I heard about grafted tomatoes. And this year, the Territorial Seeds catalog was the first, and only, place I’ve seen them offered for sale to home gardeners. There are four growing in my backyard now: Brandywine, Japanese Black Trifele, San Marzano Gigante 3, and Big Beef. I’m looking forward to following the results posted here from the more organized trials sponsored by Log House Plants.

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