An extraordinary plant that produces both tomatoes and potatoes has been developed in the UK. Just one of these bad boys can grow more than 500 sweet cherry tomatoes above the ground, and a decent crop of white potatoes below. Aptly named ‘TomTato’, the plant is actually 100 percent natural, and not genetically modified as one would expect.
TomTato, a.k.a ‘veg plot in a pot’, was developed through high-tech grafting by Thompson and Morgan, a horticultural firm based in the town of Ipswich, in Suffolk, England. Although similar plants have been created in the UK before, this is the first time someone has managed to produce a commercially viable version.
According to Guy Barter of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), taste was a real problem with past varieties, but the TomTato seems to have hit the jackpot.
“We’re looking at it with real interest because Thompson and Morgan are a really reputable firm with a lot to lose, but I wouldn’t rule out that it could be a very valuable plant to them,” he explained. “In the past we’ve never had any faith in the plants – they’ve not been very good – but grafting has come on leaps and bounds in recent years.”
Thompson and Morgan director Paul Hansord said that TomTato is a result of a decade’s worth of hard work. He first got the idea for the plant 15 years ago, when he visited a garden in the US where someone had planted a potato under a tomato as a joke. That’s when he realized that the two could be grafted together because they belong to the same family. He has been working on the tomtato ever since, and seems to have finally perfected it.
“It has been very difficult to achieve because the tomato stem and the potato stem have to be the same thickness for the graft to work,” he said. But after much trial and error, and with the help of grafting specialists, he managed to hit upon a method of producing a variety of potato with just the right-sized shoot.
A piece of tissue the size of a pinhead is sliced from each plant, checked for viruses, and grown separately in gel and then in compost. When they are two inches tall, their stems are cut at an identical angle and grafted to each other. The lower end of the potato plant and the top end of the tomato plant are clipped together, until a natural join forms.
“Each TomTato plant is specially grafted by hand to create this unique double cropping feature. There’s no genetic modification – it’s an all-natural, and safe process,” Hansord added. The grafting begins in a specialist laboratory in Holland, and the plants are then shipped to the UK where they are grown in greenhouses until big enough to be sold.
“It is a very highly skilled operation. We have seen similar products. However, on closer inspection the potato is planted in a pot with a tomato planted in the same pot – our plant is one plant and produces no potato foliage.” In fact Hansord claims that TomTato’s cherry tomatoes are much sweeter than those available in supermarkets.
“The TomTato has been trialled for several years and the end result is far superior to anything I could have hoped for, tresses full of tomatoes which have a flavor that makes shop tomatoes inedible, as well as, a good hearty crop of potatoes for late in the season.”
The firm said that the plants would last for one season – by the time the tomatoes are ripe for picking, the potatoes can be dug up as well. Both ends of the plant have been tested for alpha-solanine – a poison that can affect both plants – and it has been certified safe.
‘It can be planted from late April and produces trusses full of tomatoes which have a traditional tangy, sweet flavour from July to October and a good hearty crop of potatoes of a versatile variety, which can be boiled, mashed, roasted or made into chips, for late in the season.’
The TomTato was unveiled in September, and is available to gardeners across UK at £14.99 ($24) per 3.5-inch plant. It is expected to appeal to people who don’t have much space in their gardens to grow a large variety of plants. It can be grown inside or outside, in a large patio or a 40-liter bag.
Photos: Thompson and Morgan