A Western Oregon mail order company has begun selling what might become the No. 1 conversation starter of Northwest garden parties this summer.
It's a grafted vegetable plant that produces potatoes and tomatoes at the same time.
Cottage Grove, Oregon-based wholesale nursery Log House Plants licensed the dual tomato-potato from Europe. It is distributing to independent garden centers and through the Territorial Seed Company mail order firm. A video shows how the combo plant yields cherry tomatoes above ground and spuds below ground.
"Each plant is grafted by hand to ensure that unique double cropping,” the narrator says in the video.
So it's not a miracle of genetic engineering, but rather a simple graft of the top of one plant onto the rootstock of the other one.
The reason this works is that potatoes and tomatoes are closely related. The grafted plant first yields lots of cherry tomatoes and when that winds down, puts its energy into maturing its potatoes.
Grafting can be done at home, but requires skill and practice. In this case, the tomato stem and potato stem need to have the same thickness. The graft entails making a clean cut of both plant stems and then taping two ends together until they heal.
The British mail order nursery that commercialized the combo plant dubbed it the TomTato, also known now in this country as "Ketchup 'n' Fries." An imitator in New Zealand called its version the Potato Tom.
"People have been grafting tomatoes and potatoes for a while, but mostly as a novelty," said Territorial Seed Company marketing director Tim Russell. Prior to commercialization, he said research was needed "to find a variety of potato and tomato that complement each other well."
Russell said the unusual combo plant generated "lots of comments and buzz" almost from the moment it appeared in his company's 2015 catalog and was promoted via Facebook. "People are excited," Russell observed.