When I was 10 years old, my sister and I dressed up as a pushmi-pullyu for the Halloween parade at school. We had just read The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, a fantasy adventure where Dolittle, a country physician, could speak with animals. One of the imaginary animals he encountered on his trip to Africa to save monkeys was the pushmi-pullyu, a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn. It had two heads, each one at opposite ends of its body. My sister and I used a box as the body and connected ourselves with fabric. She looked ahead and walked forward while I looked behind and walk backwards and vice versa.
The new Ketchup ‘n’ Fries is the pushmi-pullyu of the vegetable gardening world. One side is a tomato plant, growing up, while the other is a potato plant, growing down. Although this combo was first introduced to gardeners in Great Britain last year (land of Doctor Dolittle), it is being introduced to this country for the first time in 2015, sold exclusively by Territorial Seed Company. The tomato plant is grafted onto the potato plant allowing a harvest of up to 500 red cherry tomatoes above ground and up to 4.5 pounds of white potatoes below ground, according to Territorial Seed Company. Because tomatoes and potatoes are members of the same plant family, they have the same cultural requirements of full sun and warmth. The plants are hand grafted (i.e., made to grow together physically); there is no genetic modification. Grafting is a common horticultural process, more so with fruit trees, but quickly gaining ground with veggies (grafted tomato plants have been on the market for several years). Ketchup ‘n’ Fries will be shipped in 2 ½ inch pots so it is planted outdoors after the average last frost date in early summer.
To me the real value of Ketchup ‘n’ Fries is the pushmi-pullyu factor: the “wow isn’t that cool, I want to read more” or “wow, isn’t that cool, I want to learn how to garden!” Imagine showing this oddity to school-aged children to capture their interest and to explain so many important lessons: botany (fruit versus tuber); science (plant family); health (nutritional benefits of eating vegetables); history (potato famine); chemistry (photosynthesis); math (average last frost date); and literature (Dr. Dolittle!). If my sister and I were inspired to dress up like a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn, think of the kids who could be inspired to garden by growing Ketchup ‘n’ Fries!