Describe something as stronger, faster, and able to fend off foes, and most people think of caped crusaders in brightly colored tights. Toss in a “and their tomatoes are amazing!” and you’re written off as talking to adolescent boys and Boris Vallejo fans. But one look at the performance of this year’s hot new product, and you’ll be tempted to try a few in your garden to get a taste of what it’s like to live with a superhero.
If you decide to plant a Mighty ‘Mato, buckle your seatbelts; it promised to be one wild summer ride. The latest improvements to vegetables comes to us from the Pacific Northwest, where Log House Plants have perfected the art of fusing tomatoes to a rootstock that amps up America’s garden sweetheart with super natural powers.
“This is not a genetically modified organism; it’s a grafted plant,” says Brian Wheat, co-owner of Lafayette Florist, 600 South Public Rd. in Lafayette, CO, “it’s a modern tomato on an old world, wild tomato rootstock. This is the same theory as roses, where they put roses on roots to have bigger flowers, bloom longer. We want tomatoes to survive here, with our cool nights, poor soil, and temperature swings. When people see how many tomatoes they get, how huge they are, they’ll be overwhelmed to see it performing so well.”
To be honest, anything that touts itself as the must-have of the season gets a stink eye from me until it’s proven itself, because there are a lot of people who devote their lives to separating gardeners from our money. Fads come and go, usually with late night television ads that, if you act now, will send you a few Ginsu knives they have lying around. Wheat’s seen them all. “Sometimes there’s a hula-hoop idea that is beautiful in its simplicity, like the Topsy-Turvy planter. They’re perfect for certain places, like patios or those who don’t have gardens any more but want a little tomato plant. I want my customers to get the most out of their garden; it’s the most important thing to me.”
Getting the most from places in Colorado isn’t always easy, with changing elevation and a short growing season. But this beauty and the beast pairing holds a lot of promise for gardens in challenging locales, like gardening at elevation, where Wheat sees the earlier cropping and tolerance to temperature swings of the Mighty ‘Mato beating out traditional tomatoes. “When you look at its benefits, this tomato says Colorado, not Illinois, where I’m from. They have rich soil, rain. This makes sense for us; it starts producing earlier and gives fruit later into the season.”
If you’re growing it in a container, think big; the root system on Mighty ‘Mato requires a whiskey barrel or larger size pot. And caring for a grafted tomato differs from a standard one: you don’t plant them deeply. Along the lower part of its vine, tomatoes have lumps, called root initials, that often develop into roots. When this happens to a grafted tomato, the genetics of the top growth can take over, reducing or cancelling out the robust characteristics the rootstock provides. Plant them at the same level as they are in the pot, making sure that the graft line – you can clearly see it – is above the soil.
Many varieties of heirloom and hybrids are available on the Mighty ‘Mato, including: beefsteak, Mortgage Lifter, Black Krim, Green Zebra, or Cherokee Purple slicers. Cherry tomato fans will love the better-than-bumper-crop production of Sweet Million, Black Cherry, or Yellow Pear. I’m trying Brandywine, because I’ve noticed a decline in its vigor in my garden and want to see if grafting gives it the jolt needed to grace our table with the tangy, old fashioned flavor love apples are known for.