June 8, 2012

This Summer's Biggest Blockbuster? It's a Tomato in Red Tights.



It's a bird, it's a plane....it's a Mighty Mato®. Relax, he far from genetically modified. No spider bite turned this passive solananoid into a superhero, he's simply a mere, wimpy heirloom, cut, and glued in  lab onto a naturally-bred beast - Nope, it not a movie, but it just might be this summer's biggest blockbuster - and he's grafted!

I've read that Grafted tomatoes are the answer to many of our soil and air born diseases, especially with heirloom varieties of those plants within the genus Solanaceae, - I mean - we all have to be careful that we don't trigger another outbreak of fungus that caused the potato famine ( the same disease that our heirloom tomatoes get very easily- Phytophthora infestans).  Grafted tomatoes are simply heirloom or hybrid varieties, grafted onto a stronger-growing root stalk ( last year when I tried, I used the variety Maxifort, which is bred to grow strong roots for commercial greenhouse culture where grafting has been the modus operandi for years). Now, in just a years time after we home gardeners discovered that grafted tomatoes and cucumbers were the answer, we now can buy some - at Home Depot, no less. But act quick, these plants are not easy to find, which is not surprising, since a grafted tomato plant will grow twice as large and produce twice the fruit than a traditionally rooted plant will. This is my pathetic head grafted onto the body of Iron Man. Hoo wahh!



It's not too late to buy these nice, young and grafted tomatoes right now, to do your own home test. In fact, mid-June is the best time to plant tomatoes, I even planted some seedling ones last week. Grafted tomatoes just might be the greatest advancement in home vegetable gardening since floating row covers. especially helpful if you want to grow your plants organically. The PR folks at Home Depot emailed me to see if I would like to test a few plants and write honestly about my thoughts on this blog, so I decided to take on the challenge. I'm not always open to such opportunities, but I decided to accept this offer since they encouraged be to "be honest'. I was a little concerned that I would get a big box in the mail with one of those giant, steroided out monsters soaked in hormones and fertilizer.
MY PLANTS ARRIVES IN GREAT CONDITION, IN THIS INNOVATIVE SHIPPING CONTAINER. THESE MAY LOOK SMALL TO YOU, BUT FINALLY, A RETAILER UNDERSTANDS THAT THIS IS THE PERFECT SIZE TO PLANT IF YOU WANT LARGE, HEALTHY PLANTS.

THE MIGHTY MATO PACKAGING - HE SURE LOOKS BIGGER, STRONGER AND TASTIER....BUT A LITTLE CREEPY. HE'S NEKID. EVEN SUPERMAN HAS SHORTS OVER HIS TIGHTS.
When my box arrived via FedEx, it was a cute, graphically designed box which made me both smile, and then become even more concerned -I understand that designing a brand to appeal to a consumer takes some creative risk, but I wasn't so sure about this solution at first, it just surprised me. The shipping crate wasn't very serious, rather, it was bright green and red -dare I say ' a cute, character-based approach' - as if this was a press kit for a new kids animated show starting a tomato wearing shorts... who happened to be a superhero, ( believe me, I know superhero design!).

ON THE LEFT, A SWEET 100 MIGHTY MATO GRAFTED PLANT, ON THE RIGHT, A GRAPE TOMATO FROM MY GREENHOUSE AT HOME. NOT EXACTLY A ONE ON ONE COMPARISON, BUT I TRIED TO FIND COMPARABLE PLANTS IN SIZE AND AGE.
I planted my Mighty Mato's in fabric bags, which I find to be not only environmentally friendly, but tomatoes grow better in sterilized soil-less mix ( which is not environmentally friendly, but I use Bio Comp with is made from composted peanut shells).  An important thing to note, is that a grafted tomato must not be planted deeply, as one may do with a traditional tomato plant, you  must plant it so that the graft is above the soil.


ON THE LEFT, A BIG BEEF TOMATO THAT I STARTED FROM SEED, AND ON THE RIGHT, A GRAFTED BIG BEEF VARIETY FROM MIGHTY MATO. I KNOW MINE IS LARGER NOW, BUT MY GUESS IS THAT MR. MIGHTY WILL TAKE OFF SOON. 

I had to put my marketing hat on for a moment, and then I felt better. Merchandising is key in this business of mass marketing. The competition is fierce, and there clearly is opportunity in crafting a niche in a category where the competition exists only in black plastic flats - retailers and nurserymen are handcuffed to only the variety name, and the size of the plant. Public perception needs to handle the rest. Not a very good way to try and sell anything, today.

So, I like the fun design solution of branding this as Might Mato - maybe, I even like the amateur looking illustration, as it look naive and like they didn't try too hard ( clip art in flat colors in a Pixar world). In the crowded home hardware store environment, this solution might stand out. Besides, I am not the target consumer, but I know that she lives on my road.
I AM TRYING TO GROW BOTH MIGHTY MATO'S AND SIMILAR VARIETIES SIDE-BY-SIDE, UNDER THE SAME CONDITIONS AND CULTURAL TECHNIQUES. THESE ARE ALWAYS FUN EXPERIMENTS TO TRY AT HOME WITH YOUR KIDS ( A GREAT IDEA TO PHOTOGRAPH IT AND BLOG IT FOR A FUTURE SCIENCE PROJECT!).

The tomatoes are shipped in a well designed poly pack, and they are grown commercially as what the nursery trade calls 'plugs' and then distributed to other growers to carry on until delivered to Home Depot. I am not sure if the Might Mato is now a Home Depot exclusive, since there is a web site where one, it appears, can order Might Mato branded grafts, and they offer many more varieties, but nothing beats the convenience of grabbing a few to try in your own home garden or containers. You can share your results here if you want.

Last year, trying to find a grafted tomato was like trying to get tickets to a Madonna concert - one on-line retailer, and you could order the supplies to graft them your self from Johnny's Seeds, ( I tried, and it was hard! $80 dollars later, I wish I could have just bought them!). It's not too late in most of the country to head out and try some of these plants, which may indeed be the Mighty Mato we all dream of! Stay tuned....
MY OWN TOMATOES ARE MUCH LARGER, BUT THEY'VE BEEN IN THESE FIBER POTS FOR THREE WEEKS NOW. IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE IF THE MIGHTY MATO'S FROM HOME DEPOT TAKE THESE WIMPS, OVER.

THIS YEAR I AM USING BOTH TUBS AND FIBER POTS FOR MY TOMATOES. THESE HEAT UP IN THE SUN AND WARM SOIL IS WHAT YOU WANT FOR GOOD FRUIT SET. THE SOIL-LESS MIX HERE IS PRO-MIX, NO GARDEN SOIL WILL TOUCH MY PLANTS TO DISCOURAGE DISEASE. I KEEP THEM ON A HOT GRAVEL BED, TO ADD MORE HEAT IN THE SPRING, AND LESS SOIL-SPLASH TO KEEP THE DISEASE DOWN.

3 comments :

  1. Hey there, Matt!
    Great that you're trying the Mighty 'Mato, but the size of pot you've planted them in is going to affect negatively your yield.
    Talk with you soon? Hope so...
    Alice
    Log House Plants

    ReplyDelete
  2. Alice, I know, you are right. I was going to mention it, but didn't. I ordered larger ones ( like the last photo) which are 10 gal., but I only had 3 gal handy. I know that I will need to upgrade to the largest size possible in a few weeks. Not ideal, but better than keeping them in their shipping pots. Thanks for commenting!

    ReplyDelete

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