Early on in their farming experience, Karen and Tom learned about the devastating effect late blight can have on a small farming operation that features outdoor grown organic tomatoes as a principal crop.

This is the same disease organism that caused the Potato Famine in Ireland and other European countries at the turn of the 20th Century and forced many farmers from that part of the world to come to America.

Elmore grew up in a family of conservationists and his training and first career were geared toward conservation production of crops. So, choosing to be organic farmers just came natural, he says.

“I don’t have anything whatsoever against farmers who grow crops in the conventional way, but growing organic has had some big advantages for us,” Elmore explains.

Late blight is one of the big disadvantages in trying to grow tomatoes outside with organic methods. To combat that problem, Elmore moved his tomato production inside to an environmentally controlled greenhouse and began grafting tomatoes for planting in the greenhouse.

Grafting is a hot topic in the vegetable world today, but when Elmore started doing it, now going on 6 years ago, it was a novel, if not revolutionary, way to grow tomatoes.

“I attended a North Carolina Greenhouse Growers Association meeting, and one of the speakers talked about grafting tomatoes. It didn’t seem that difficult, so I made the decision to plant half my greenhouse without grafts and the other house with grafted plants,” Elmore says.

In one bed containing both types, the grafted tomatoes did really well, and dwarfed the conventional plants, the North Carolina grower adds.

The next year he grafted all his greenhouse tomatoes, produced a big crop, and has spent the past few years perfecting the art and the science of grafting plants.

Basically, it’s simple, he says. You find a rootstock that resists soil diseases and then find a scion, or top part of the plant, that has the marketing qualities you want in a tomato and splice them together.

In reality, it’s significantly more detailed, though the North Carolina grower says it takes only a few hours to actually graft the plants he needs for his greenhouse.

The first step, he says, is to get the rootstock plants and scion plants seeded so they are similar in size at transplant time. The two plants are then cut at about 45 degree angles, and the scion is attached with a clamp to the rootstock.

“After the surgery, it takes the plant 7-10 days to recover. Then, it can be planted just like any other plant. The recovery requires high humidity to replace water lost in the procedure and low light to prevent the plant from losing moisture in the photosynthesis process,” Elmore explains.

Realistically, there is some crossover between the scion and rootstock, because the scion gets increased vigor from the rootstock, but basically above the graft you get characteristics of the scion and below the graft you get the characteristics of the rootstock, he adds