THE TOMTATO PLANT
By David Marks
TM, one of the large seed merchants in the UK, announced in 2013 that they had developed a brand new single plant which produced potatoes below ground and tomatoes above ground. So far they have not divulged which varieties are used but the tomatoes are relatively sweet cherry tomatoes and the potatoes are a white multi-purpose type. At the same time a New Zealand company have announced a similar plant which they are marketing in to local garden centres. There is no GM involved, they are simply grafting a tomato plant onto a potato plant.
The New Zealand company are more forthcoming about the varieties used – Gardeners Delight tomato onto an Agria potato. At the moment we can’t locate a supplier in the UK for the Agria potato however the Potato Council do list it as a UK approved potato variety, see here for more information.
HOW IS A TOM TATO PLANT GROWN?
The technology for growing TomTato dates back many years. It involves grafting one plant (a tomato) onto another plant (a potato). This is not usually possible with two different types of plant but tomatoes and potatoes are very closely related and the graft works successfully. In recent years many vegetables have successfully been grafted onto vigorous roots of the same plant type and these have been successfully sold in garden centres and online.
T&M are not alone in producing plants of this nature, Incredible Edibles in New Zealand are growing them commercially with some success using the name Potato Tom. No doubt other companies will do the same and market them using combinations of the two plant names.
The major complication with grafting a tomato plant onto a potato plant is variability in the size of the stems. The stem sizes need to very similar for the process to work at a commercial level and this is one of the key reasons that the amateur gardener is unlikely to succeed using this method.
ALTERNATIVES TO TOMTATOES
The price of a TomTato plant is currently £14.99 and to us this appears to be incredibly high for what is after all just a novelty plant.
The method for producing the cheaper plant is very different from the TomTato but you end up with the same effect, one “plant” producing both tomatoes and potatoes. The tomatoes taste good and grow well as do the potatoes. The other benefit with this method is that the amateur gardener stands a reasonable chance of success. More of this though when we give it a try in the 2015 growing season.
BUSH OR CORDON?
The tomatoes produced area a cordon type and are best pruned in that manner. The potato part of the plant should be harvested after the majority of tomatoes have been harvested in the normal manner.
APPEARANCE AND TASTE OF THE TOMTATO
SUMMARY CHARACTERISTICS OF TOMTATO
GROWTH TYPE: Cordon tomato with potato roots
F1 OR OPEN-POLLINATED: Open pollinated, saved seed will come true to type but only for the tomato part of the plant.
WHERE TO GROW: Outdoors does very well, can also be grown in a greenhouse.
USE: Salad tomato, smaller ones can be eaten on their own
SKIN COLOUR / TEXTURE: Red glossy skins with a smooth texture
FLESH COLOUR: Red
TASTE AND TEXTURE: Good sugar content but needs further evaluation
STORAGE: Can be picked green ripens well on a window sill
TOMATO SIZE: Conventionally slight larger than a cherry tomato but see text above
REGULARITY OF CROPPING: Not yet evaluated
SPECIAL FEATURES: At this stage a novelty. Prices from T & M are a massive £14.99
WHEN TO PLANT THE TOMTATO
The key dates for the TomTato plant are that it should only be planted out when all danger of frost has passed.
WHEN TO HARVEST TOMTATO TOMATOES
This variety is a cordon type tomato and if they are pruned in that way you can expect to be picking your first tomatoes in the. first week of August Often they are given little or no pruning and in this case they will produce fruit a couple of weeks later.
BUYING TOMTATO PLANTS IN THE UK
As at Spring 2015 the only merchant selling the Tomtato plant is Thomson and Morgan at a very high £14.99 per plant. If the plant proves to be successful there is little doubt that this price will fall dramatically.
The are alternatives in the UK which are much cheaper.
The methods for obtaining the two plants is different (see main text) but both result in a plant which grows tomatoes above ground and potatoes below ground.
Independent online resources which may be of interest for further reading include:
Incredible Edibles – http://www.edible.co.nz/fruits?fruitid=77
If you need any more information on growing this variety, click here to go to our main tomato page.
Other varieties which may also be of interest include:
COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS
Sometimes our readers ask specific questions which are not covered in the main article above. Our Outdoor Tomatoes comment / question and answer page
lists their comments, questions and answers. At the end of that page there is also a form for you to submit any new question or comment you have.