Monday, 28 May 2012

planting potatoes

One of my desert island foods is potatoes. I just love them - baked with the works 1950's style, scalloped with 5 year cheddar as an accompaniment to ham, sauteed in a heavy cast iron pan with onions, oven roasted fries with olive oil and sea salt, the first new potatoes quickly boiled and topped with butter. The list just goes on and on...

Quite often people think why bother to grow your own potatoes when they can be purchased so cheaply at the grocery store in August. But for me there's no comparison. The grocery store choices tend to be restricted to Kenebec, Chieftan, Yukon Gold (or even identified only as red, white and yellow).  There are so many heirloom and newly developed potatoes in all kinds of colours and shapes - some best for frying, others for baking, different ones best suited to boiling and then the ones like Yukon Gold described as "all purpose".

Additionally there is the issue of pesticides and herbicides. In conventional commercial farming potatoes have a heavier spraying schedule than any other vegetable and all that stuff is taken right down into the tuber we eat.

But I must admit I have spent a disproportionate amount of my life picking potato bugs. Normally I have planted potatoes on the weekend of Mother's Day but this year I delayed it a couple of weeks. I have heard from more than one source that delaying the planting could miss the first cycle of potato bugs so it seemed serendipitous that the newly tilled field wasn't ready to be planted in early May.

 Before planting I wanted to lay down black landscape fabric on the new bed in the field where the potatoes are destined to go. All the tilled weeds will add fertility if they break down but until then every tiny bit is a potential new weed plant. I hoped that the black tarp would smother or fry at least some of the weeds. Later the potatoes themselves should help clean out the bed. Between hoeing between the hills as the potato foliage grows, spreading cardboard between the rows and adding fall leaves I have been storing in the garage, the plan is that by the time the potatoes have been harvested the soil will have much more fertility and way fewer weeds! (But of course I don't need to be reminded of the "best-laid plans"!)
Black landscape fabric on part of the new bed 

The first step in planting potatoes is to lay out the seed potatoes. Inside the house they get at least some light for about a week and aren't too cold.
Seed potatoes laid out to green sprout

 Dark Red Norlands and French Fingerlings went on the counter on May 12. A week later the sprouts have turned green and they're ready to plant.
Dark Red Norlands with sprouts that have greened up

Diane helped me plant them. We dug trenches and laid cardboard between them. After we laid the potatoes in the trenches we hoed just enough soil to cover them. I checked them the next day to throw a little extra soil on any that were exposed.
Diane hoeing the trenches with a "mulch" of cardboard

Laying out the French Fingerlings
Then it was time to lay out the Banana fingerlings, Yukon Gold and John River Blue. They sat on the counter for a week and got planted in the bed which had been covered by the tarp in hotter weather. I decided not to lay down cardboard and just hope that the leaves I will add as mulch will suppress most of the tenacious weeds.
Banana potatoes after a week on the counter
We just finished the last of the 2011 potatoes so it's cold turkey for now. It's all an experiment - while I may have to wait a week or two longer than other years, I can hardly wait to grub around in the potato bed in mid July for those first delicious new potatoes.

1 comment:

  1. Love the new beds!!! I can't believe how big they are. So much activity this year at the farm.