When Kissing Cousins Marry

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You Say Tomato, I Say Potato

It’s not often that a childhood fantasy comes true, but my, how delightful when one does. As a kid, I was fascinated by a neighbor’s mail order plant catalogs, especially those that featured amazing novelty plants. One memorable time, she ordered a roll-out garden that consisted of a thin fiber mat that was said to be full of seeds of colorful annuals to bloom all summer long. Sadly, despite our faithful watering, nothing ever appeared.

The same enchanting catalog offered a plant that promised to grow tomatoes on top and potatoes on the bottom. Of course we ordered it, but what we got was a withered looking seedling stuck into a shrunken potato that never did show signs of life. The idea, however, continued to intrigue me and many others. Tomatoes and potatoes are nightshade cousins, so might they in theory be compatible? Recently, that goofy idea has been realized in the form of a grafted combination called Ketchup ‘N Fries (or TomTato in the UK).

Wondering About Wonder Plants

Ketchup ‘N Fries is not a GMO Franken-plant, but the partnering of actual tomato and potato plants. Specially bred potato plants (the eventual root stock) and amazingly productive cherry tomato plants are carefully matched for stem size, then hand-grafted to create a vegetable chimera. The result is Ketchup ‘N Fries, a wonder plant that produces hundreds of super-sweet cherry tomatoes, along with a substantial harvest of full-sized potatoes.

The cute little tomatoes ripen quickly, ready for salads, snacking, roasting, and even ketchup making. The plump potatoes are harvested when the prolific tomato crop is done. According to the hybridizers, you can expect to harvest as much as 4 or more pounds of potatoes per plant, which is quite a good rate of return. (Many popular potatoes yield closer to 2-3 pounds per plant.) Once planted in the ground, you can expect these wonder plants to take up a fair amount of space, so allow at least 4 feet between plants if you grow more than one.

Potted Productivity

In the UK, these remarkable grafted plants have been called “a veggie plot in a pot,” and they were indeed bred to produce well even in captivity. They’ll do best in a generously sized container that holds between 15 and 20 gallons of planting soil would be perfect, especially half whisky barrels, which hold about especially a half whisky barrel, which holds about 4 cubic feet of potting soil.

Though most tomatoes or potatoes grow best in the ground, the Ketchup ‘N Fries partners are productive in pots thanks to patient breeding. Under development over the past 15 years, this pair is the result of a great deal of research and controlled breeding and can truly be called unique. Special hand-grafting techniques are required to pair a sweet hybrid short season indeterminate cherry tomato with a flavorful, mid-late season white potato. Again, no GMO is involved, only hand grafting of plants developed through years of hand crossing.

Even More On The Horizon

Happily, this extensive research and development is leading not just to grafted pairings like Ketchup ‘N Fries. From it are coming whole new classes of plants, including dwarf indeterminate tomatoes, which we will no doubt be seeing more of in the near future. To develop Ketchup ‘N Fries, SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables LLC researched and trialled many promising combinations. It also took five years to come up with the special grafting processes that allow this crazy-cool partnership to thrive. This was assisted by the work of a Dutch breeder who had conducted similar research for 12 years, resulting in the TomTato introduced last year by England’s premier seed and plant company, Thompson & Morgan. All these eager folks continue to trial new potato-tomato combinations, and someday soon we may even see a delightful array of choices.

If you mail order Ketchup ‘N Fries plants, you can choose delivery for the last half of April or the first or last half of May. Early delivery will bring you plants that need the same coddling you’d give any heat loving tropical plant in spring. Be ready to keep your double-duty plant indoors or in a greenhouse until the ground warms up. This usually means waiting to plant until night temperatures get up into the mid- to high 50s. Cloches, water-filled jackets, floating row cover and similar protective measures will help your grafted baby plant to size up quickly. Though special planting and care directions  come with each plant, these cross-over cuties are as easily grown as any tomato.

Ketchup ‘N Fries are available from Territorial Seed Company, http://www.territorialseed.com, and plants will also be available in early spring from independent nurseries throughout Washington.

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2 Responses to When Kissing Cousins Marry

  1. Like your mother, I am in a retirement apartment and have only my patio and the house for a few plants. What you said about indoor houseplants cleaning the air we breathe is true and important to me as a victim of COPD. One of the “warnings” posted by the manufacturer of a home we purchased was to use several plants that would “eat” the fumes from formaldehyde, which was everywhere, in the walls, carpets, new upholstered furniture. I have a spider plant, one of the plants recommended by the manufacturer. What other plants would you suggest to lessen the fumes from formaldehyde?

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Rosalie,

      Lots of folks are in the same boat! Happily, there are some very effective air cleaning plants that are easy to find and easy to grow. Rubber plants are a classic houseplant that are extremely adaptable and good at Improving air quality. A recent study suggest that Fatsia japonica (not usually a houseplant but easily grown indoors) can remove up to 80% of the formaldehyde in a room in about 4 hours (Here’s the link:http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090217141419.htm). These folks also tested weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), a common houseplant, which did nearly as good a job. The same study indicated that using larger pots can be helpful, since it appears that soil bacteria are partly responsible for capturing and holding the noxious fumes. Hope that helps!

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