I was surprised to see a teeny tiny tomato plant (Solanum lycopersicum) in the vegetable garden at Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts in early July 2016. I’d never seen one so small, and yet it was full of tiny little green fruits. The label said ‘Micro Tom’. I took a few shots, then did some research when I got home.
A Bit of History
Turns out it’s nothing new: ‘Micro Tom’ was developed by the University of Florida and released in 1989. For a gardener like myself who has his nose in multiple seed catalogs each spring, I was a bit shocked I’d never heard of it, but then I checked my usual seed catalogs and none of them carried it.
It was originally developed for use in scientific experiments: with its extremely small size (it does not exceed 8 inches/20 cm diameter or height at maturity and the ones I saw in Tower Hill Botanical Garden were only 4 inches/10 cm high and 6 inches/15 cm in diameter (I have a handy measuring tape app on my cell phone!). You can see where such a small size would be handy if you’re doing experiments where greenhouse space is limited.
As for the average gardener, ‘Micro Tom’ is offered in seed catalogs as “as an ideal houseplant.”
The plant is characterized by small and often distorted leaves with fewer lobes than larger tomatoes. The stems have very short internodes, so the leaves seem to pile up one on top of the other. You only need a 4-6 inch (10-15 cm) pot to produce up to 30 small round red tomatoes that ripen in about 120 days (some 88 days after transplanting). I have yet to taste one, but if I can trust comments on the Web, they are “tomatoey” in flavor, but not as sugary as most cherry tomatoes. The plant is determinate (read The Tall and Short of Tomatoes for an explanation of that term), so all the fruits ripen at about the same time.
Not a GMO!
And no, this plant is not a genetically modified organism. It just inherited two genes known to cause dwarfism in tomatoes. It is essentially the chihuahua of cherry tomatoes!
How to Use It?
So far, so good, but other than surprising neighbors and visitors with a tiny little tomato plant, why in the world would you want to grow ‘Micro Tom’ tomatoes?
Certainly it’s not a garden variety of tomato: you wouldn’t plant it in order to feed your family, not when just about any other tomato variety would give you much more fruit.
It could be used as an intriguing border plant for a vegetable garden or be used in places where space is at a premium, such as on a balcony or in small hanging baskets.
And you could grow it as a houseplant if you sow it in the spring for a summer harvest. (Natural light in most homes would probably be insufficient for a winter crop.) As it is very low growing and thus fits well under lights, you could also raise it at any time of the year under fluorescent or LED lights, making sure the plant receives long days.
Or just give in to your impulsion and grow it because it is so darn cute!
Here are two sources for seeds of this mini-tomato: