Jack Melnick
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Period Slave Garden Experiment Underway at Carnton Plantation


Since the inception of the Slave Garden project in 2014, the crops planted have traditionally been ones grown during the mid-1800’s, around the Civil War time. Cotton, okra, broom corn, cabbage, potatoes, beans and tomatoes were the main crops, all heirloom and grown organically.

This year, I decided to try a different experiment keeping mostly with the same tradition. Cabbage, potatoes, and beans are currently growing now, as well as the period tomatoes. In early February, with the direction of Master Gardener, Annie Owen and help of Master Gardeners and Williamson County Master Gardener Association members, Phillip Francis and Pamela Lambert, we started a project at the Giving Garden Greenhouse raising many different varieties of heirloom tomatoes along with trays of rootstock plants for grafting. The two we focused on were Estamino and Maxifort, both with a history of producing larger tomatoes and greater quantities on the vine. When the rootstock and heirloom plants were ready and similar in size, around the 1st week in March, we started the grafting process, creating at least two of every variety (assuming we would lose some during the process).

Both rootstocks are disease resistant and hardy plants, while the Estamino has a history of producing a larger fruit and the Maxifort can produce a larger quantity of tomatoes on the vine. Some of the varieties we grafted were Purple Calabash, Bradley, Genovese Costoluto, Rutgers, Green Zebra, and Cherokee Purple. In all, there are 29 plants (all are heirloom varieties) in the garden with all the varieties having a traditional plant and one each of the grafted plants planted together to quickly see the progress and make comparisons. Of the 29, there are 8 Maxifort and 7 Estamino while the remaining 14 are regular heirloom plants. These 29 have taken up the real estate leaving little room for other crops. As the potatoes, cabbage, and beans are harvested, other crops such as okra, collard greens, and an 1850’s watermelon will be added.

The goal is to produce larger, improved quality tomatoes and compare them to the unaltered version. With the grafted plant placed in the ground keeping the graft spot above the soil level, a new grafted version will emerge on the vines. As the season progresses, we will document the results to measure the benefits of this experiment. When the seeds are harvested from each grafted fruit, they will produce the same plant as the grafted tomato from then on. This is the goal of this project: to have seeds going forward every year, growing a more disease resistant and improved quality heirloom tomato. 

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