Lowenfels: Plant that sprouts both spuds and tomatoes may be coming

Jeff Lowenfels

Every year without fail I get a few emails accompanied by pictures that show "tomatoes" on potato plants. Having grown up in a tomato growing family, I know that if some of these folks ever took a look at the root system of their plants, they might even find tomatoes with potatoes.

This seemingly strange occurrence is because both tomatoes and potatoes are members of the "nightshade" family, Solanaceae. In addition to potatoes, eggplants and both chili and bell peppers as well as tomatillo are members of the gang. If you look at their flowers, you will see striking similarities.

I dutifully answer those who send me the pictures, explaining it is not that unusual and point out why. Then the other day I saw that Thompson and Morgan, of seed catalog fame (oops, now also on the web at thompson-morgan.com) has hybridized (as opposed to genetically modified) a tomato variety that not only produces fruit (described as better tasting than anything you can find at the store), but will also create a great crop of white potatoes at the end of the season. It is called the "TomTato" and right now is available only in Great Britain and New Zealand. I am sure availability will spill over to the colonies this winter and we might even be able to try out the plants here in the far north next year.

Next, I harp on doing things on a timely basis so you won't have to risk frostbite and worse trying to get some gardening chore finished before there is too much snow on the ground. I've already hammered on the need to get the moose repellent, Plantskydd, on before temperatures drop below freezing. If you haven't, you know you need to hurry up and do so. Still, there are a few other things to consider at this time of year.

The first is to stake paths and driveway. Once leaves are down and mulched into the yard, and surely before the ground really freezes hard, get those driveway and walkway markers in so you, your guests, the newspaper delivery person and the snow shoveled-plower (be that you or a hired service) know where to take snow from and, as important, where to put snow.

The second is to install your bird cam. This is a handy tool I always urge folks to get if they are into bird feeding. Confession: I don't own stock in the company, but they sent me one a few years back. It takes time released pictures of birds at your feeder. (For more information search "wingscapes bird cam.") Why would you want one? Well, birds only come to feed during the daylight hours and you are usually at work during the day. So, a bird cam is how you see what you are feeding. You can video visiting birds or take photos and upload both into a computer, tablet or phone and look at them at your leisure. If interested, act quickly. They are easy to put up, but it is so much more fun when it isn't 10 degrees.

Getting your garden stuff stored properly is another thing I put on the "do now" list. This is because, first, you have no choice; things need to be put away. As important, getting things put away properly means you can get them out again next spring with no hassles. Clean tools, hang what needs hanging, drain gas tanks or put in winterizing stuff, toss things that don't work and get rid of things not used, coil hoses, sweep floors and get ready for next year.

Finally, if you know that next year you will be moving a tree or shrub, now is the time to go out and root prune so that you can increase the chances of success. This is particularly so with large specimens. Take a spade and dig around the drip line of the plant, or better put, cut a circle around the enter plant. This will cut the roots and new roots will grow inside the circle forming a good root system that will support the plant with a minimum of shock once the plant is moved next season.

Finally, the most frequent question of the past week? Can I still plant bulbs. The answer is absolutely "yes."


Bird feeders: Way too early by a month. However, it is never too early to clean yours with some bleach and to get the hangers all set up around the yard. After Halloween, the call should come from Fish and Game that it is safe to hang them and start feeding.

Wild herb lovers: Learn about and register for classes at Ellen Vande Vises's Good Earth Garden School. Starts Oct. 8.

Leaves: Mow yours into the lawn. If you bag them, keep them and use them for mulch. Collect extra from neighbors who bag them for you and leave them on the curb.

Outdoor greenhouses: Whiteflies do not live in the soil during the winter. Once it freezes, your problems are gone for good, unless you bring in new ones next spring. If you have them indoors, Azamax works, but you need to follow instructions and spray a few times to get all parts of the life cycle covered.

Houseplants: Start paying more attention to yours. The heat is on in the house and they will need water and attention.

Lights: As always, what are you waiting for? You have nine months of winter, which is more than you have summer. Grow flowers and veggies indoors. Set up some grow lights. Better yet, hire someone to convert a room or a closet into a grow room. Houseplants to tomatoes, why wouldn't every Alaskan house have a grow room with lights?

Jeff Lowenfels' bestselling books are available at tinyurl.com/teamingwithmicrobes and tinyurl.com/teamingwithnutrients.