2017 Research 1st Place – Grafted Vegetable Garden Trial, Marion County, OR

Grafted Vegetable Research

And Demonstration Gardens

How it all started

In 2011, grafted tomatoes first became available to the home gardener. Ads featuring amazing comparative pictures were published, but no real information was available to gardeners. Master Gardeners Harry Olson and Tobie Habeck recognized a need to test these claims and determine the real worth of grafted vegetables, both for Master Gardeners and the public.

A decision was made to grow five (5) varieties representing the full range of tomato types in a side by side comparison (grafted vs ungrafted) in the Marion County Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, Salem, Oregon. The results of this trial would be shared with the public and Master Gardeners by public observation and media coverage.

Our trial provided evidence of profound improvements through grafting, including: greater plant vigor, earlier fruit production, more fruit, bigger fruit, better disease resistance, and fruiting season a full month longer than ungrafted plants.

These results were shared with Master Gardeners and the general public through visits to the trial garden, newspaper features of our trial, and reprints in the local and statewide Master Gardener Newsletters. Findings were also shared through presentations to numerous garden clubs around the state. We were able to demonstrate how home garden production could be significantly improved, and serious garden challenges reduced, by the use of grafted plants.

In 2012 & 2013 we conducted further grafted tomato trials in the Marion County Garden, including a comparative test of early grafted tomato varieties, “First to Ripen”, and demonstrations of the new Indigo Tomato varieties pioneered by Oregon State University (OSU).

In 2014 we conducted public trials of grafted watermelons and cantaloupes that were not yet publicly available, with spectacular results. We were able to produce large and numerous watermelons in the Willamette Valley, an area not known for its ability to grow melons due to the cooler climate.   This trial ended with a live on-site radio interview on “In the Garden with Mike Darcy”, and a well-attended public watermelon tasting at the trial garden. The Salem Statesman Journal Newspaper also reported on our findings.

All trials since 2012 have been well attended public events with extensive media coverage by two major local newspapers (the Oregonian and the Statesman Journal). In addition, the OSU Extension Service and radio garden shows including “In the Garden with Mike Darcy” and “Down in the Dirt with Diana” helped to publicize our project and results

In 2014, our three years of successful public trials caught the attention of the Oregon Garden in Silverton (a nationally known destination garden) and they invited us to establish a grafted vegetable demonstration garden.

Tram Stop #5

The Oregon Garden gave us a prominent raised bed complex immediately next to Tram Stop #5 located at the garden entry to the Silverton Market (edible) Garden. The tram takes Oregon Garden visitors on a tour around the garden every 30 minutes and tram drivers routinely include information about the trial garden in their tour talk.   Our trial includes a large banner declaring it the “Master Gardener Grafted Vegetable Demonstration Garden” For our 2015 Oregon Garden Trial we grew multiple types of grafted vegetables, including: tomatoes of every shape, size and color, peppers, eggplant, watermelon, and basil. We even grew the potato-tomato grafted “Ketchup ‘n Fries. The “Ketchup ‘n Fries” was extremely popular with the public, and was always mentioned by the tram drivers on the Oregon Garden tour. Our focus was on “Big Tomatoes” and tomatoes never before grafted.   These were also well received by visitors.

The trial garden is protected by a first class deer fence that not only protects from the deer, but serves to emphasize the area of the garden.   A large banner, and laminated placards surround the entire project, explaining what visitors are seeing and describing the grafting process. Visitors and their families are frequently seen gathered around these placards. (See attached pictures.) During our weekly visits to maintain the demonstration garden, we experience significant interaction with garden visitors.   Ty Borland, the Oregon Garden Horticultural Manager, reports that the exhibit is very popular with visitors, and he has received numerous positive emails regarding the Demonstration Garden.

Public interest grew in 2015, and it was again a great public education and promotion project for the Master Gardener Program. The “Garden Time” TV Show visited our trial and did a show on-site, as did Portland radio and TV personality, Mike Darcy.   Kelly Fenley of the Eugene Register Guard paper visited the trial and wrote a lengthy article for his newspaper.

In 2016, we again established a demonstration garden of both large and colorful varieties of tomatoes. We selected many new varieties, some never previously grafted. We held Master Gardener Q&A sessions at the trial site over the summer with the goal of answering visitor questions, telling the Master Gardener story, and distributing information about the Master Gardener program.

One of our new and exciting things to talk about with visitors this year is an innovative method of pruning tomatoes to promote greater growth and production. The “Harry Prune” was developed by team member Harry Olson and verified by several years of confirming trials.

One of the best days of this trial was the Home Schooled Kids Day at the garden. Our project team happened to be working onsite that day, and talked to parents and kids by the hundreds, spending most of our morning work period just interacting with that group. We finally had to terminate “tomato tasting” as our plants were getting bare. It was rewarding and fun, and likely started some young gardening careers. Our trials at the Oregon Garden have been well covered by the media, including the Oregonian, Statesman Journal, radio and television. Oregon State University Extension Service Communications Specialist Kym Pokorny’s first article for OSU Extension Service was about our Trial in the Oregon Garden. That article was distributed statewide and was reprinted numerous times in other publications.

We can only estimate the number of people reached by our project. The Oregon Garden reports nearly 50,000 visitors between May and October (our trial time). The majority of those visitors take at least one Tram Tour which brings them within 15 feet of our demonstration garden. Tram drivers consistently provide information to riders about our trial. Because our trial is located in the center of the Oregon Garden, it is visited by many who wander the garden on their own. Appearances on radio and television and newspaper stories obviously reach large populations, but they can’t be counted. It is our belief that our trials have reached more members of the public than likely any other. They have also well represented the Master Gardener Organization as a leader in public education and demonstration.

Our Chapter’s mission is to educate and serve the community by supporting and enhancing the sustainable gardening work of Oregon State University and Marion County Extension Service. Our grafted trials have done that. We have found a simple, yet easily replicated method to educate an amazing number of people, including children, about the wonders of gardening by capturing their attention with new and novel types of plants. Many visitors have never heard of grafted plants, and are amazed and interested in including grafted plants in their own gardens.

Budget / Partnerships

Since the Oregon Garden graciously hosted our trial, the cost of our trial has been minimal and borne largely by the participating Master Gardeners. Our grafted plants were generously donated by Alice Doyle of Log House Plants in Cottage Grove. It was Log House Plants who originally brought grafted vegetables to the home gardener. Their premier grafted vegetables made this trial possible.

Impacts & “Take Aways”

For Master Gardeners: Our Demonstration project provides a model to encourage Master Gardeners to be alert to emerging technologies or activities that hold an opportunity for Master Gardeners to serve their organization and the public through trials, testing, and public reporting. We also provide a model to greatly improve the number of public served and improve dissemination of information through use of all available media outlets. Our community role as trusted leaders in gardening is enhanced and solidified by these activities.

For the public: Engaging in demonstration projects such as this provides a great service to the public, clarifying and demonstrating the worth and impact of emerging technologies on gardening. While servicing our trial garden during the summer we have direct contact with at least a thousand garden visitors. Most are impressed with what they see and many have never heard of grafted vegetables. Nearly all expressed an interest in trying grafted plants in their garden next year and thanked us for our demonstration garden.

The children we encountered and spoke with in the Oregon Garden most impressed us. Many were truly in awe and responded excitedly to our invitation to step into the garden and try some tomatoes. It is a certainty that many future gardeners were born of this experience.

Closing Thoughts:

In this trial, we, as Master Gardeners, saw an opportunity to test new garden technology and report our findings to the public and to other Master Gardeners. We went on to conduct five (5) years of public demonstrations of our findings and related technology in a manner that affirms and solidifies the role of Master Gardeners as leaders in hands on testing and providing gardening information and guidance directly to the public. Our trial has also been a model for the use of news media, in the promotion of our work.

Participating Master Gardeners:

Harry Olson             Tobie Habeck              Eric Suing
Marion County Master Gardeners

A picture is worth a 1000 words

This is the picture that started our journey

Left: Brandywine Tomato ungrafted(left) and grafted roots. The grafted root (on right) 10 ft out is still pencil size. Note the plant size difference and that the ungrafted is long dead while grafted is alive and well (October 17th).

Below: Our consistent findings after five years of trials