What’s that in the garden? It’s a tomato plant! It’s a potato plant! It’s a TomTato!
If you haven’t been following horticultural news, there’s a new star in the world of gardening advancement. The TomTato, or Potato Tom in New Zealand, was unveiled at the end of September.
What is it?
Called a “Frankenstein” plant by NBC and Business Insider, the TomTato is a plant that offers tomatoes above the ground and potatoes below. Stretching tall on a support pole and evidently grown in a compact pot, the photogenic sample plant used for the announcement boasts a large number of ripening cherry-sized tomatoes and eight neat white potatoes.
How did they do it?
The Huffington Post had originally reported the TomTato as a genetically modified hybrid, which would be a completely different matter altogether. But the TomTato is the result of grafting, the process of fusing two young plants together. The stems of each plant are put together and eventually the two halves team up, the tubers sharing its water with the tomatoes and the tomato plant sharing its energy and nutrients with the roots. Gardeners have been grafting for centuries, but this is the first time so successful a grafted veggie plant has been so widely available.
Both tomatoes and potatoes belong to the same family of plant, which is why the grafting seems to take well compared to some other attempts. Still, it’s interesting to see that the plants can thrive so close together, particularly because potatoes and tomatoes aren’t always planted or harvested at the same time and don’t necessarily like the same climates. In fact, as companion plants go, almanac.com lists tomatoes and potatoes as “foes.”
Its creators have already talked about how this tactic can be used to merge other plants together. Some plants mentioned have been eggplants and bell peppers, though there aren’t any official announcements made about PepperTatoes just yet. Keep an eye out, though, because they’re sure to follow if TomTatoes make a good impression.
Who made it?
The TomTato is being offered by UK-based Thompson & Morgan Company, a major supplier of gardening seeds in Britain. It seems that their biggest motivation was to provide gardeners a space-saving option for veggies, though it will certainly benefit them to be the first to sell these plants commercially.
The Potato Tom, on the other hand, is evidently a rendering of the tomato-potato combo presented by Andrew and Fiona Boyland of Kati Kari nursery, Incredible Edibles. It appears that the two plants are unrelated and it seems that the New Zealand version was actually in the works first. Whatever the case, it’s taken the spotlight of horticultural news and will doubtlessly be recreated by others soon.
Well, is it any good?
The TomTato has been in development for some time, but its previous incarnations had been rejected for not producing tasty enough rewards. I haven’t had the opportunity to try them, myself, but it’s safe to assume that these tomatoes and potatoes pass the taste test.
The major drawback for us gardeners is that these plants only last a year as they lack the capability to reproduce again after grafting. However, it would be rather nice to be able to save some space in the garden by doubling up plant yield.
As a gardener, I’m pretty darn curious about this wonder-plant. I wouldn’t necessarily like to see a garden full of grafted plants, particularly if they only last one season, but I feel that the happiest gardeners are ones that try new things. TomTato plants are currently being sold for around £15 ($24 USD) and will be available to American consumers for planting in April 2014, so maybe we should give it a shot and report back our results.