Cedaridge Farm: Birthplace of the Tomato-Potato and Preservation of the Lazy-Wife Heirloom Pole Bean

By Derek Fell | October 14, 2015
Image by Derek Fell
by Derek Fell
October 14, 2015

This week’s guest blogger is Derek Fell. Derek is a writer and photographer with art, travel and garden books totaling more than 2.5 million in print, plus a photo library numbering more than 150,000 images portraying plants, gardens and travel destinations. He lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, at historic Cedaridge Farm, where he cultivates an award-winning garden of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Derek’s most recent gardening books are ‘Vertical Gardening‘ and ‘Grow This‘, both available from Rodale. Derek has also produced a series of books about the gardens of the great French Impressionist painters, including Monet, Renoir and Cezanne, titled ‘The Magic of Monet’s Garden‘, ‘Renoir’s Garden’ and ‘Cezanne’s Garden.’ For a sample copy of his on-line full-color monthly newsletter, visit The Avant Gardener.

Ever since I decided to earn a living as a garden writer, after six years experience working with Europe’s largest seed house as their catalog manager in London, and then six years as catalog manager for Burpee Seeds, in the USA, I cherished the idea of owning a small farm in order to test different gardening techniques, and also new varieties of flowers, fruits and vegetables as an impartial, independent garden writer. In 1989 I was able to acquire historic Cedaridge Farm to serve as my test garden, and also to function as an outdoor studio in order to photograph the results of my work.

The two innovations at Cedaridge Farm that have most benefited the gardening community are the perfection of a grafting technique to produce a ‘Tomato-Potato’ plant that produces tomatoes on the vine and potatoes in the soil, and the preservation of an heirloom bean, the ‘Lazy Wife’ in danger of being lost to cultivation.

The ‘Tomato-Potato’ started off life in North America as a fraud. A now defunct seed company sold potatoes hollowed out to form a pot, with a nest of sphagnum moss and three tomato seeds in the middle, claiming the two would grow together and produce tomatoes and potatoes in the same space. What I discovered is that the potato always outgrew the tomato seeds and suffocated them. I experimented with hollowing out the potato all the way through to accommodate a plug of soil with a pre-germinated tomato seedling. This allowed the tomato and the potato to grow at the same rate, form a graft and produce a worthwhile crop of both tomatoes and potatoes in the same planting space.Although it is possible to purchase the grafts, it is easy to make your own by simply taking a large potato tuber like a ‘Yukon Gold’ or a ‘Red Pontiac’, coring it all the way through so you can see daylight through both ends, and then insert a plug with a tomato seedling, preferably an indeterminate variety like ‘Sub-Arctic’ which ripens its fruit all at one time, allowing you to pull the entire plant from the soil and harvest potatoes among the roots.
10- Tomato-Potato plant showing tomatoes on the vine and potatoes among the roots.
38- Pole bean Lazy Wife seeds for direct-seeding
The ‘Lazy Wife’ bean was introduced to American gardeners in the 1880’s by Burpee Seeds. It was the first string-less pole bean, and although a late maturing variety it developed a strong following because of its high yields and superb, tenderness. With just a few minutes cooking the pods turn tender and taste buttery, and seem to melt in the mouth. Unfortunately, a series of crop failures prompted Burpee to discontinue the variety. I acquired a supply of the true original stock seed from a farmer who had been saving the seed since Burpee discontinued it, and after he died I continued to save seed every year for thirty years. It came to my attention that several seed sources were selling seed of the ‘Lazy Wife’ that was not true to the original, but a very poor substitute. To rectify the situation I donated enough stock seed to the Seed Savers Exchange to replace the substitute with the genuine article, and this past growing season was the first time that the true, original ‘Lazy Wife’ was offered by mail order since Burpee dropped it. Seed Savers Exchange sold out their supply for this season but expect a new crop for next season. Order by visiting www.seedsavers.org.

You can tell the true ‘Lazy Wife’ bean (also called ‘Lazy Housewife’) from any other kind of snap bean by the shape of the pod. It is flat, about 5 ¬Ĺ inches long, with the interior seeds swelling the pod to form a shape like a knuckle. Also, the beans are distinctive in that they are almost round like a pea and shiny white like polished porcelain. Pick the pods before they turn brown and brittle for a delicious meal, boiled or steamed. After the pods turn brittle, you can shell the beans and they make the best baked beans. I have harvested as many as 500 pods from a single vine.


For more information on Derek Fell, please visit http://www.derekfell.net.

50- Pole snap bean, Lazy Wife showing shape of edible pods

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  • Jennifer
    Comment added April 4, 2016Reply

    I'm looking forward to trying these - thank so much!

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