Britons are booking orders for a double-crop wonderplant called the TomTato, that puts out cherry tomatoes on the vine, while growing whole white potatoes underground.
“It’s the perfect marriage,” Michael Perry, new product manager at Thompson-Morgan, who is taking TomTato orders for next April, told NBC News. “Why wouldn’t someone want to buy one?”
Tomato lovers can chop up the fruit for a season’s worth of salads, and then harvest the potatoes at the end of the year, Perry promised.
It sounds crazy, but the science is legit. Tomato and potatoes are members of the same plant family, which makes them ideal candidates for being grafted together. That’s how the company creates their new line, and a technique fruit growers and horticulturists have been using for centuries — just not in this exact combination.
The tomato and potato from the TomTato plant won’t taste any different, Kenneth Mudge, associate professor at Cornell’s Department University of Agriculture, told NBC News, but the yield might be lower than individual tomato or potato plants. That’s because “the potato is putting all of its energy into making tubers and a tomato is putting all its energy into making fruit,” he said.
Mudge said he wouldn’t buy one, no, but … “I’ll make one!”
Thompson-Morgan — the firm that’s claiming this is the “first time that plants have been successfully produced commercially” — grows their tomato and potato plants separately. When they’re just a few weeks old, the tomato plants are cut at the stem and placed at a cut-location on the stem of the potato plant.
Over the next few weeks, channels between the potato and tomato stems fuse together. The plumbing connects, delivering nutrition down from the leaves, and water up from the roots, but the plants themselves retain genetic identities.
This technique wouldn’t be limited to TomTatoes. Bell peppers and eggplant — family members of solonacea just like tomatoes — could be alternative partners for the potato, Thompson-Morgan’s Perry acknowledged, but wouldn’t say which pairs are up next.
“The possibilities are there and we’ll be looking into more as soon as we can,” he said. “The world is our oyster.” EggplanTato, anyone?
Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
TomTato plant grows both tomatoes and potatoes
Improved growing methods and better use of space has paved the way for this intriguing concept.
While it’s been possible to create such hybrids for a long time, the taste of the resulting tomatoes has apparently left much to be desired. According to the company, however, the TomTato’s fruits have a brix (sugar content) level higher than that of most supermarket tomatoes, along with “just the right level of acidity that only the tastiest tomatoes have”. The potatoes are said to be fine for boiling, mashing or roasting.
The TomTato is purchased as a grown plant (as opposed to in seed form), and lasts for one growing season. One plant can reportedly produce up to 500 tomatoes and 2 kg of potatoes. See more in the video below.
Meanwhile you can read more about the New Zealand release, the Potato Tom, here
You say potato, I say tomato
A common refrain of anti-biotechnology campaigners is that the method will create strange “Frankenfoods” that will be bizarre if not harmful. Anti-genetic modification propaganda shows syringes injecting serum into ears of corn, and who knows where that might lead. Perhaps science will generate true chimeras, with properties of multiple foods.
Take a look at this horrifying possibility, humorously called a “TomTato” that mixes tomatoes and potatoes.
Except, that actually exists—and it wasn’t produced by biotechnology. Instead, a British horticultural firm grafted potato roots onto a tomato plant. It’s a common technique—perhaps most famously, grafting saved the French wine industry in the late 1800s. So much for “Frankenfood.”
But this should remind us that despite all the furore and brouhaha over biotechnology, the method is just the most scientific in a ten thousand-year history of human manipulation of plant biology.
Those “organic heirloom tomatoes” the activists rave about didn’t exist in nature. They are productions of man, who haphazardly over decades changed them by selective breeding, grafting, and other methods. And when it comes to safety, reputable scientists agree that (just like grafting and selective breeding) there isn’t any reason to believe biotechnology is unsafe.
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Hybrid foods appear to be popping up left and right, from the Cronut to Dewitos, the world is fiending for these unique food combos. However, some might be surprised that many fantastic and innovative foods have been in the works for years. These new hybrids don’t need to be baked or fried, they can be grown. Delightfully sweet Cotton Candy Grapes, for example, are just the first in a line of many flavored grape varietals planned by The Grapery. According to their website, flavors like strawberry and raspberry are on their way. It truly is a marvelous world that we live in.
The latest entrant into this arena is the charmingly-named “Ketchup ‘n’ Fries” plant from SuperNatural Grafted Vegetables, a plant that grows potatoes on its roots and tomatoes on its vines.
This miracle of agriculture is made possible through grafting, a technique that has been around for centuries. By taking two plants and fusing them together, farmers have been able to establish sturdier roots and disease-resistant plants. The Ketchup ‘n’ Fries plant is made using soft tissue grafting, a process that essentially takes the top half of one plant and grows it onto the severed bottom half of another. Painful though it sounds, the result (pictured below) is nothing short of beautiful.
Photo Courtesy of NPR
The plant is actually not a genetically modified organism, nor is it a monstrous freak of nature. Because tomatoes and potatoes are both varietals of the nightshade family, it simply took finding the correct combination to create a commercially viable product. With white potatoes on the bottom and sweet cherry tomatoes on top, Ketchup ‘n’ Fries is perfect for everything from tomato sauce and salads to french fries and potato gratin.
Incredibly, the Ketchup ‘n’ Fries took 15 years to develop, and a varietal (named the TomTato) has already been on sale in the UK for about a year. Although the UK got the plant before us, I say that we got the better name.
Although the Ketchup ‘n’ Fries has been received relatively well, not all modified varietals are greeted with open arms. The CCN-51 cacao tree, for example, was developed so that the normally temperamental crop can grow almost anywhere and withstand diseases. Additionally, the CCN-51 can produce yields far greater than normal cacao trees. Beans from the tree, however, are nearly unpalatable and have to go through several extra steps (such as sundrying) to be acceptable for commercial use.
However, both cooks and farmers can get excited about this fascinating new plant. Aspiring gardeners (or mad scientists) can expect to see the Ketchup ‘n’ Fries in local markets as soon as this spring.
Hungry for more food combos?
- 8 Crazy Food Mashups
- Philly’s Best Hybrid Foods
- Cronuts at Home: A Cautionary Tale
Question: What do you call a plant that is a tomato and a potato grafted together? A tomtato? A potmato?
Answer: I don’t know and I don’t care.
Grafting Tomato scion to Potato rootstock
Potatoes and tomatoes are both closely related, they can be grafted to each other easily enough. With a little effort a chilli, tomatillo, potato, tomato, ground cherry, eggplant and a few other things including some agricultural weeds can graft onto one another as they are all closely related. If you could be bothered they could all be grafted onto a strong rootstock and a multi-grafted vegetable garden shrub could be created.
Many varieties of each of these plants are perennial, so in theory if a hardy perennial root stock was chosen a grafted perennial vegetable plot in one plant could be the result. Yields would be low for each plant and care would need to be taken to ensure one graft did not take over the others, but it would be easy enough to create. Perhaps I should make one next year just to prove how simple it is.
About 20 years ago I grafted the top of a tomato plant to the bottom of a potato plant. I did not have grafting tape or grafting clips but I did misappropriate some plumbing tape from school and used that. I had never grafted anything, I had never seen anyone graft, I had no one to answer questions or guide me, I had no books to read (and as far as I knew the internet did not exist) but I had heard about grafting so decided to give it a go. How hard could it be?
I had hopes of getting two crops for the same amount of space and water. It kind of worked, I guess. I certainly got a crop of tomatoes, but the non grafted one in the next row cropped better. At the end of the season I certainly got a crop of potatoes, but the non grafted potatoes returned a far larger crop. Both crops tasted just as they should and looked normal. The grafted plant used quite a lot more water than I would have expected, much more than the tomato plants or the potato plants in the other rows. I considered it to be a failure due to the extra work resulting in lower crops an higher water for the same amount of space, in hind sight it was probably a success as the plant lived and cropped and I learned from the experience.
Recently I have seen these grafted tomato/potato plants being sold. One very arrogant man claims that he is a genius who invented this process about 5 years ago. Too late, I did it 20 years ago when I was a teenager and I seriously doubt that I was the first to try this successfully.
A few people claim that this method of grafting increases yields from both plants, unfortunately from my experience I do not believe them. You will get both crops, but the crops are both smaller. Larger crops from a grafted plant such as this is illogical. If you do not have much space and can only grow one plant then this trade off may be well worth it. I don’t see the need to make erroneous claims, people will still buy the plants if you tell them the truth. I sell a lot of interesting vegetables, there is no need to exaggerate as people who want them will buy them.
It would be interesting to see just how poorly these grafted potato tomato plants crop. I should run some field trials to see if growing potato and tomato in the same pot will yield differently to a grafted tomato potato. I wish I did not have to go to work so I had more time to do interesting experiments like this.
I also have read about someone from a large plant/seed/gardening company who claims to have been the first to have ever thought of the idea 15 years ago (but never actually tried it until more recently), again I not only thought of this but successfully tried it earlier than that! If a teenager with no experience, no resources, no education or mentor can do this it can’t be that difficult and I wish people would stop trying to big note themselves with such simple things. I honestly believe that people have been trying this and succeeding for a few hundred years but it has not gone anywhere as the yields are too low to bother. This type of grafting is simple, it is unproductive which makes it uncommon, being uncommon means that people have not seen it before and are often taken in by these lies. Perhaps next Spring I should run some grafting courses and teach people how to create these grafted plants at home.
Reisetomate tomato flowers
Grafting Potato scion onto Tomato rootstock
Enough of my rant (for now), I don’t want to talk about grafting the top of a tomato the the bottom of a potato. I want to talk about the opposite.
This year I grafted the top of a potato plant (called the scion) to the roots of a tomato (called the rootstock). You may ask why the devil would anyone do that, the resultant grafted plant would produce neither tomatoes or potatoes so would be a waste of time and space. Well it is simple, I wanted potato seed.
Modern potatoes are grown from existing potatoes, they are genetic clones of their parent, it is essentially the same plant. Seed potatoes are just small potatoes, a stem fragment from the parent.
I wanted to grow potatoes from seeds, true seeds, each and every one of them would be unique. Some would be dreadful, some mediocre and perhaps some would be great. I wanted to see if I could create a new variety that is better suited to my needs and will grow better in my climate. To do that the potato plant needs to flower, then it needs to grow fertile seeds, often a potato left to itself refuses to flower. Grafting onto a tomato will help to make this happen.
When I was a child we had an unknown variety of potato that would set seed each year. I used to grow these seeds and nothing great ever came from them. Each seed grown plant was different, they grew differently, some had slightly different colours, but the parent stock was dodgy and did not have the genetic potential to grow anything truly great. I used to think it was my fault that nothing exceptional came out of that and felt like a failure, now that I am better educated I know that I actually achieved a lot back then.
I have a variety of potato that never flowers in my climate. I don’t know if it flowers anywhere. Many modern potatoes no longer flower. It is a great variety, it is easy enough to buy, but it struggles to crop well in this climate. When I have grown this variety in other climates and without exaggeration it has cropped about 20 times higher than it crops here (I weigh things and keep pointlessly accurate records). Planting certified virus free seed potato into new soil does not help, this variety struggles in my climate as it is not really suited to growing here. But it tastes so good which makes me want to grow it.
If I could get some seed from this potato there is a chance I could grow a similar tasting potato that crops well here. To do that I need it to flower and set viable seed. This is a decent parent plant and has the genes to produce some exceptional new varieties of potato, but in the 7 or so years I have grown it I have never seen any flowers.
This year I grafted that potato scion onto tomato rootstock to induce flowering and hopefully convince it to grow fruit and set viable seeds. As the potato will not be putting any energy into tuber formation it will be more likely to flower and more likely to have the energy to set viable seed. I chose the most vigorous tomato I have and grafted them using ‘tongue approach grafting’ or ‘inarching’ as it is the simplest and most fool proof way to graft. This is how grafting happens most often in nature, it is simple, fast to do and once done it is very low maintenance. I could have chosen other forms of grafting but why make things harder than they have to be.
Picture thanks to http://extension.umass.edu/floriculture/fact-sheets/grafting-techniques-greenhouse-tomatoes
I grew a tomato seedling in a pot and the potato plant in the soil. When the plants were both the right size (ie it had nothing to do with size, it was when I could find the time) I put a small cut into each stem part way through. I then joined the two together and bound them with plumbers tape. I still do not have grafting clips or grafting tape, but the plumbing tape works well enough for me, this time I bought the tape instead of helping myself to it. Then I left the plants with two tops and two sets of roots so that the graft union could heal. Perhaps my description is not that useful, the picture above shows roughly how I did it, but my plants were larger and much older than in the picture.
After the graft had taken (ie several weeks later when I found time) I cut off the top of the tomato and the bottom of the potato and was left with a grafted plant with tomato roots and potato leaves. The potato plant went on to continue growing and eventually produced a crop (which is why it was in the soil to begin with) and the top of the tomato was used as a cutting so nothing was wasted. I had a grafted plant in a pot which I planted into the vegetable garden.
I then had a plant with the roots of a tomato and the top of a potato. I left the grafting tape on for another week or two then unwrapped it, the union was strong enough by this time and the tape was getting too tight. The tape could possibly be removed earlier but this works for me so I have not experimented with other methods.
We are hoping to sell our house so I only grafted the one plant. I did not want to put in a lot of time to graft a lot of plants only to sell and move leaving behind treasures like this that would not be appreciated. Unfortunately we still are yet to find the right buyer, had I known this I would have planted a lot differently this year, hind sight is great.
This grafted plant flowered well, extremely well. Considering that I have grown this potato variety for so many years and never seen a flower I think it is safe to conclude that grafting the top of a potato to the roots of a tomato actually does help the plant to flower.
There are a lot of different pollinators around my garden, I never saw them on the potato flowers but they may have been there when I was not looking. I tried to pollinate the flowers in the same way that one pollinates tomato flowers, I think it worked.
Potato Flowers – the grafting worked
The plant started to produce fruit. This is exactly what I had hoped would happen. Then the ducks got in to the vegetable garden, they stomped around the garden a bit, broke a lot of plants, ate some leaves off things, messed around stealing vegetables and ate some fruit off the trees.
The grafted potato/tomato plant was still alive but all the fruit was missing, I don’t know if the ducks ate the fruit or if they rolled away somewhere. If they rolled away there is a chance they may grow next year but I doubt I will find them or even know that they are not just the normal potatoes. The grafted plant continued flowering for a while but those flowers all aborted and did not produce any fruit, probably due to the heat.
If I try this again the next time I will try to graft a few more plants to help provide a little insurance against this kind of thing. Nothing much can be done now apart from wait.
Since writing this post I have wondered if I should dig up the grafted plant and try to overwinter it. I know the tomato rootstock can survive if I protect it from frost but I am not sure about the potato part. I wondered if it was worth my time even trying, perhaps it would flower and set seed better, perhaps it would simply die, I don’t know anyone who has tried to keep a plant like this alive for several years. Come to think of it, I don’t know anyone who has created a grafted plant like this one.
Once again the ducks got into the vegetable garden, they kind of made up my mind for me. The top of the plant is now dead/missing, the roots are possibly still alive, if they sprout leaves I will let the frost kill it when it is time. This type of grafting is worth another try if I have any land next year as it seemed to help the potato to flower, once I get this potato variety to produce viable seed then the fun part begins. Perhaps I should get a different type of potato that flowers and fruits readily and cross them. For now I am happy that grafting helps flowering and fruit set.