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Breeding Into Grafting

My name is Clifton Hedrick, I am 55 years old and currently live in Somerset Kentucky. I have now been growing tomatoes for more than 40 years. In the spring of 1998, with no internet, no computer no cell phone, I went to the library and began reading a book on plant breeding. I was fascinated, and that same summer I began breeding vegetables just for fun with very mixed results. Never giving up, in summer 2003 after 5 years of experimenting, I continued breeding tomatoes but on a more serious level creating several disease-resistant crosses. In 2006/2007 I made notes about having noticed that a tomato variety that would normally succumb to diseases once crossed with a disease-resistant variety that after 3 or 4 generations and many selections I could actually create a tomato similar to the original heirloom in both looks and taste that would still be alive until the dreaded first frost. Over the years I also noticed that the more disease-resistant the cross was with any chosen tomato variety, the more disease-resistant the created segregant would become. Although breeding tomatoes is and probably always will be a passion of mine, I’m going to share some of my thoughts and newest findings concerning grafting over the past 12 years.

After many trials and tribulations, I have discovered that grafting is a better, and easier way to achieve instant results of what we sometimes spend years of breeding and selecting to attain. Grafting combines an exact genetic duplicate of your favorite heirloom and combines it with modern hybrid resistance to the diseases that we as tomato growers fear the most. Soil-borne issues such as nematodes for example, simply pick a hybrid tomato variety that you want to use as the rootstock (The roots for your heirloom) that was bred for nematode resistance. On the label, the letter N in the VFFNTA indicates the variety will have nematode resistance. You can attach any heirloom tomato plant (“scion”) to any (rootstock). Hybrid tomato plants are readily available at your local garden center just waiting for you to attach your heirloom tomato to them.

For example: If you have a Brandywine tomato plant that you will be using as the “scion” (or top of the plant) and a Big Beef (VFFNTASt) tomato plant that you will be using for the bottom “rootstock” (the roots for your heirloom) and you graft these two plants together what you now have is a Brandywine tomato plant with (VFFNTASt) resistance. The grafted plant now shares the same disease resistance package as the Big Beef had and the exact genetics as the Brandywine has. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Your grafted Brandywine is not a Big Beef but is now a Brandywine grafted onto Big Beef (rootstock) with disease protection and higher yield potential, better overall health without any change in genetics. Grafting requires no breeding, just a single edge razor blade, and a grafting clip/grafting tape and a dark humid place like a bathtub for 3-4 days to allow the graft to heal. Although there are many different methods to complete a graft, the actual grafting results are generally the same. Attaching your favorite heirloom or your created future heirloom to hybrid rootstock will become common practice in the very near future.

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