Being a plant breeder and having a young family doesn’t leave me a lot of time for leisure gardening, but still, as an unashamed plant geek, I can’t resist indulging in a few plants and veg. This month is all about a humble potato.
In early February I started chitting tubers of a very special potato on my windowsill: La Bonnotte. Being French you may think I am a bit biased, but of all the potato varieties I have ever had the chance of tasting, this definitely tops my gourmet list. Sautéed whole in their skin, simply with salted butter and herbes de Provence, they are truly divine, with an unforgettable sea-like, sweet, citrusy and chestnutty note. It’s important to cook them in their skins to keep the taste, but the inward eyes would make peeling almost impossible anyway. I had ordered 2kg of seed potato and when they arrived, I was very tempted to cook some straight away… This was far worse than the Stanford marshmallow experiment, but I shall wait until harvest time!
La Bonnotte is normally grown on the small island of Noirmoutier, where the light sandy soil, oceanic microclimate and the addition of seaweed all participate in developing the unique flavour. It may also have to do with the absolute TLC every plant receives: La Bonnotte is planted by hand using the old technique of lazy beds – definitely not for the lazy gardener – which are essentially wide, parallel raised beds without any wooden borders. On the mere 5 hectares where they are grown, the tubers are planted on the 2nd of February and harvested before maturity 90 days later. The backbreaking job of harvesting and severing the growing tubers from the mother plant is again all done manually; machine harvest would just ruin the soft skins and delicate aromas.
With the mechanisation of agriculture in the 60s, La Bonnotte very nearly became extinct, but it was saved in extremis by passionate Noirmoutier growers and the INRA in the 90s. By April 1996, it was ready to go back on the market to the delight of chefs and gourmets alike. The first hand-harvested crop of 5 kg was auctioned and fetched the incredible price of €2,300, making La Bonnotte the most expensive potato in the world. Nowadays the price is more like €10 a kilo for the very first ones, still a high price for a spud!
Now back to reality. I very much doubt I’ll have the time and dedication to build lazy beds and add Irish moss seaweed when my own La Bonnotte tubers are finally ready for planting. I think I’ll plant some in the ground and some in bags. I’ll also be growing some tasty Jazzy as backup and comparison. Suffolk is a tad colder than Noirmoutier so I plan on planting in early March and won’t be able to taste them until the end of May. By then I’ll know if La Bonnotte tastes just as good without the influence of the sea, even if in Noirmoutier it has been nicknamed pomme de mer.
From the creators of the ground breaking Tomtato® comes Egg & Chips®
– another world first in 2-in-1 cropping solutions for the home gardener
- Aubergines AND potatoes from the same plant!
- Lovingly hand grafted to bring you bumper crops
- Great novelty factor for kids and kids at heart
- Perfect for patio and balcony pots
Following the phenomenal success of the hand-grafted Tomtato® (More than 1million sold worldwide since launch in 2013), Thompson & Morgan plant breeders have carried out extensive grafting trials to create the next step in space-saving, dual-cropping vegetable plants with Egg & Chips®. For the first time ever you can now produce aubergines (better known as egg plants in the US and Europe) and potatoes on the same plant.
Aside from the dual-cropping benefits of Egg & Chips®, the grafting process makes it easier than ever before to grow quality aubergines in the UK climate. The hardy, vigorous potato plant supports the more delicate aubergine far better than its own root system can in British soil, enabling optimum fruit production. You won’t even need a greenhouse to grow Egg & Chips® – a sunny, sheltered spot in the garden will produce great results.
The development of Egg & Chips® was kept tightly under wraps – the seed and plant specialist even moved its annual summer press days off site in 2015 to keep final crop trials a secret.
Thompson & Morgan New Product Development Manager Michael Perry said: “It’s been hard keeping quiet about this amazing plant. I’ve had to bite my tongue for the past year! Egg & Chips® is a real innovation. For seasoned veg growers this is a really novel development. For those without the luxury of an allotment or large vegetable patch it makes the most of available space in the garden. Even the smallest patio or balcony can accommodate a pot-grown Egg & Chips® plant – pair it with a Tomtato® plant and you’ll have three easy to grow crops from just two pots”.
The productive plants offer guaranteed results, making them great fun for kids just getting into growing. For kids at heart the innovation will make a great “show off” plant on the patio this summer. The sturdy potato plant gives the aubergine the vigour and strength to grow strongly and harvest heavily under UK growing conditions. Above ground you will harvest an average of 3 to 4 large tasty aubergines. Below ground, harvest heavy yields of up to 2kg of delicious white potatoes which are incredibly versatile. You can boil them, mash them, roast them or make chips. There’s no genetic modification – it’s an all-natural, and safe process.
Egg & Chips® also dispels the myth that you need to salt, wash and dry aubergines to draw out bitter juices before cooking – a laborious chore that has put many people off growing these Mediterranean plants in the UK. The aubergine variety chosen for the grafting process is a modern strain that has had the bitterness bred out of it – simply pick, chop and cook.
Orders are now being taken for mail order despatch from April onwards. With limited first year stock Thompson & Morgan recommends early ordering.
Buy your Egg & Chips® potted plants here
We were extremely happy to be selected as a TomTato® trialler for Thompson & Morgan. To grow an innovative and inspiring plant is such a great opportunity and I am here to share the journey with you. When our TomTato® arrived safe and sound I was incredibly excited to begin the growing process. The plant was packaged extremely well for transit and did not suffer from the journey at all. By the following morning he had straightened up and was reaching out for the sunshine.
There was a squash in the cardboard outer at the top from rough handling in transit, but this had no ill effect at all and the container inside was fine. We were quite surprised to see how big the plant was, we were expecting something tiny! A good drink and he immediately flourished, bright green and desperate to grow!
We have planted him in a large tub in an outdoor plastic tent style greenhouse. He looks really healthy and has shot up, and about a week ago we were rewarded with the first flower sprigs appearing. They are now revealing yellow and will be fully fledged flowers very soon. The whole family are following his progress very closely, particularly as my daughter is now starting a growing project at school and having to keep a diary for a sunflower – well homework has got a lot more exciting lately! We will be introducing the class to TomTato® in the coming week or so.
The plant has a great following, particularly at work where I am asked several times a day for progress reports. I have also spoken about him on our international company staff website, where we are holding a gardening forum as part of stress management and relaxing with nature project. Everyone is enthusiastic and amazed, and there is a great interest to see the end results as well as the growing process.
I am keeping a detailed record of everything as we go along, and we are truly thrilled with this amazing plant and thank you for this opportunity to grow with you. No problems at all so far, he is a fantastic high quality plant, really healthy and eager to grow and we are very excited to see his progress!
World exclusive TomTato®
Harvest potatoes AND tomatoes from the same plant
Thompson & Morgan announces another major horticultural breakthrough. Specially hand-grafted plants producing potatoes AND tomatoes are now available to UK home gardeners for the first time.
More than 500 sweet and juicy tomatoes on one plant!
Above the ground – gardeners can pick more than 500 cherry tomatoes with a Brix level of 10.2 – that’s sweeter than supermarket varieties. The fruits also have just the right level of acidity that only the very tastiest tomatoes can boast. They really are delicious.
And that’s not all!
Below the ground – gardeners will find a nice big crop of delicious white potatoes which are incredibly versatile. They can be boiled, mashed, roasted or made into chips.
It sounds incredible, but it’s true. Home gardeners really can grow tomatoes and potatoes on one plant. This concept has been worked on for over 15 years, but this is the first time that plants have been successfully produced commercially. Tomatoes are members of the potato family (Solanaceae) and are therefore naturally compatible with potatoes. Each plant is hand-grafted to create this unique double-cropping feature. There’s no genetic modification – it’s an all-natural and completely safe process.
Above ground – tomatoes, below ground – potatoes
As is the case with all of Thompson & Morgan’s plants, TomTato® is dispatched with full growing instructions. However these are hardly necessary as the plants are so easy to grow. TomTato® can be grown inside or outside, in a large patio pot or 40 litre bag, on the allotment or in the vegetable patch. Thompson & Morgan is expecting huge interest in its innovative new ‘veg plot in a pot’ , so place your order early to be sure to get your hands on these unique plants.
Paul Hansord, T&M’s horticultural director, is understandably excited about bringing TomTato® to UK gardeners: ‘When I first saw this plant, I was amazed! Potatoes and tomatoes on the same plant? You really have to grow TomTato® to believe it’.
Please note that TomTato® plants are only available to UK customers and will be sent out in time for planting in spring 2014.
Find out more about growing TomTato® by watching this tutorial video:
TomTato® – best grown in a 40 litre pot
TomTato® – tomatoes and potatoes on the same plant!
Michael Perry with a TomTato® plant