Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dig This, Potatoes!

Digging potatoes from the garden is fun and rewarding. My children use to be amazed at all the spuds beneath the garden soil. It’s like Christmas in the summer time they used to say with excitement as they dug and made piles of taters.

This year I planted 4 – 4’x4’ raised beds (about 10” deep) in March with four different varieties of potatoes; Kennebec, Yukon Gold, Red Pontiacs and Irish.

When the plant blooms you can rob them for a few new potatoes by carefully digging beside a plant and pulling out a few little guys or just thin out the crop by removing a whole plant here and there. As the vines turn brown and start laying down it is time to harvest.

Potatoes should be harvested on a sunny day (I prefer morning) when the soil is dry. I use a large garden fork with wide spaced tines so as not damage any spuds. Never wash potatoes until you are ready to cook them, simply brush off excess soil with your hands.

Leave the dug spuds in the garden for a couple of hours to start the curing process.

To ensure longer storage for your crop of taters, lay them out on newspapers or a plastic table cloth in a single layer where they can dry out and continue the curing process for two weeks. Here in TN, I bring the summer crop inside where it is cool and lay them out on a table out of direct sunlight in the family room and leave the ceiling fans on to circulate the air.

The fall crop I lay out on newspapers in the garage where it is cool but doesn’t freeze. Later I store them in milk crates in a cool dark pantry. Potatoes exposed to sun, either in the garden or later and turn green should not be eaten. Check the spuds regularly and remove any soft or spoiling spuds.

I weighed each variety of potatoes to calculate the pound per square foot. I was pleased with the results. Total weight was 56.9 lbs which equates to .89 lb per square foot. Not bad considering that the average potato farmer usually gets about ½ lb per square foot. The Red Pontiacs were the biggest producer at 1.44 lbs per sq. foot of garden space. That means 23 lbs. of red potatoes in a 4’x4’ raised bed (spaced 8”-10”). That was about twice the production of the other taters in the same about of space. You can bet I’ll plant those again!

If you don’t have the space in your kitchen garden to dedicate to potato growing, there are other methods that may peak your interest. ‘Towers of Taters’ (as I call them) are a space-saver using materials already on hand or re-cycled. Stacks of tires, large round tomato cages, and bottomless containers (let your imagination run wild) work well. Place potato seed (whole or pieces of sprouted or soon to sprout potatoes with at least two eyes) in layers of straw or mulch, water well in full sun and watch beautiful, clean potatoes emerge. Fellow gardener Tom Moucka shows off his 'Tater Tower' – nice job Tom!

You can also plant tater seed in bales of straw or just lay them on the ground and cover with a thick layer of mulch. My great grandmother use to plant her peels. It was during the depression and food growing was a necessity not a luxury like today. As she prepared potatoes for supper she would peel them just a little thicker and lay those peels on the ground with the eyes up and cover with soil. My father remembers her continuous crops of potatoes when he was a child.

With a little extra effort and forethought you can have home grown spuds in your garden, yard or on your patio. Potatoes are a relatively inexpensive vegetable that you can readily buy at the store for about 2 bucks per pound (for organic) but when you taste fresh potatoes that you have grown yourself – priceless!

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