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It’s Catalog Season Again

Some of what you see is too good to be true

      Seed catalogs fill my mailbox every day. If you’ve ever ordered seeds or plants, I bet yours is filled, too. Every picture and possibility looks good this time of year. But can you trust everything you read in these appealing pages?
      Certain nursery and seed catalogs market plants using exaggerated claims. Take for instance the tomato plants that also produces potatoes. I’m looking at a picture of a tomato plant with large clusters of red and green tomatoes — plus large baking-type potatoes at the bottom of the stem. If you have grown tomatoes in your garden, how often have you seen tight clusters of uniformly red and green tomatoes? If you’ve grown potatoes, you know that baking potatoes do not all grow as a cluster at the base of the stem.
     Yes, it is possible to have a plant grow both tomatoes and potatoes. This is accomplished by grafting the stem of a tomato plant onto the stem of a young potato plant. Since both tomato and potato are members of the nightshade family of plants, they are compatible.
     The nursery first plants a small potato in a pot. As soon as the potato sprouts and the stem grows to the diameter of a pencil, a small stem from a tomato plant is grafted onto the stem of the potato stem. The graft will heal in about two weeks, at which time branches growing from the potato stem will be pruned away.
     The resulting plant will either grow small potatoes and medium-sized tomatoes or small tomatoes and medium-sized potatoes. It is physiologically impossible for such a plant to produce normal sized tomatoes and potatoes simultaneously.
     There is also a second problem associated with grafted plants. Potato plants are extremely susceptible to Colorado potato beetles, while tomato plants are not. The natural pheromone that attracts Colorado potato beetles is transmitted to the tomato plant, making the grafted plant attractive to the beetle. You will not find this mentioned in the description accompanying the picture.
     If you want both potatoes and tomatoes from your garden, I recommend that you plant separately the red-skinned potato Pontiac and my favorite tomato, Bradywine. I have found that the Pontiac potato is the most dependable and a good keeper. For flavor, it is hard to beat the Brandywine tomato. This year I made tomato juice from Brandywine; it has a taste similar to V-8.