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Growing My Way to Freedom #43: Potatoes

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Blog entry by Radicalfarmergal posted 01-01-2014 04:29 PM 1797 reads 0 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 42: Vegetables in the Garden on the Summer Solstice Part 43 of Growing My Way to Freedom series Part 44: Hopi Blue Dent Corn »

We had a good potato harvest in 2013. Here is a photo of one-third of our total harvest:

In 2013, I ordered our Burbank Russet seed potatoes from Pinetree Seeds. We picked the Burbank Russets for several reasons:

- We enjoy their taste, baked and mashed
- Luther Burbank lived and developed this potato not far from where we live so it fits well in our climate
- It is a late season producer so that we can wait to harvest it until our cellar is almost cool enough for storage
- In the right conditions (dark, cold, damp) they store through most of the winter
- Burbank Russet potato plants show resistance to scab, black leg, and fusarium.

We use the traditional trench method for growing potatoes. We dig a trench about nine inches deep and space the seed potatoes about a foot apart. We cover the potatoes with a layer of soil and compost and, as the potatoes sprout and grow taller, we gradually build up the surrounding soil around the plants with compost and soil until they are actually growing out of mounds higher than the surrounding bed. Potatoes will turn green if they are exposed to light and green potatoes are poisonous so I also cover the soil with mulch to provide extra protection and improve moisture retention because we do not irrigate our potatoes.

Here are a few photos showing how the potatoes grew this summer:

1. Beginning of June, the potatoes have already grown enough to fill in the trench and start building hills around the plants. The paths and between the plants are covered with mulch to prevent weeds and retain more even moisture in the soil.

2. These are the plants by the end of June. The potatoes are now dense enough that no weeds stand a chance and we just wait until the plants die back before harvesting.

A few lessons I learned about potatoes this year:

- Green Potatoes.
I used to cut off the green portions of potatoes and would eat the rest but I no longer do so. If any part of the potato is green, it now goes into my compost pile. The green is caused by chlorophyll, which will not hurt you, but the green color is an indication that the plant has probably increased glycoalkaloid production to prevent the tubers from being eaten and the chemicals solanine and chaconine may be present. Disease and damage to the tubers may also increase glycoalkaloid production.

- Knobs and lumps
If you notice from the harvest photo, our potatoes have highly irregular shapes. In no way does it impact the taste of the potatoes but it can make cooking them a bit more of a challenge, particularly when I am trying to choose potatoes of a similar size so they all finish cooking at the same time. These irregular shapes are caused by stresses on the plant that makes its growth uneven, a sort of stop and go growth pattern. The stress can be caused by either high temperatures (we often get days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit) or uneven watering (we rely on summer rains and mulch for our potato crop). Russet potatoes are one of the varieties most prone to high temperature stress.

- Saving Seed Potatoes
This is the first year I have tried to save my own seed potatoes. Selected from the best healthiest looking robust plants, I saved a few pounds of small potatoes in paper bags in our cellar. If they store well, I will have extra potatoes to plant next spring. If they do not, I already have ordered seed potatoes for 2014.

I know quite a few Garden Tenders planted potatoes this year, some for the first time. I would enjoy hearing your stories about how your potato harvests fared and what you learned in the process.

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout



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Radicalfarmergal

4296 posts in 1870 days
hardiness zone 5b

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19 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

14682 posts in 2608 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 01-01-2014 10:59 PM

no potatoes here. and I didn’t get many seeds saved either, as was the plan – mostly beans.

Your potato patch looks fantastic. Oh how I wish I had a nearby source for straw. Maybe this year I’ll find someone. (I haven’t looked really hard in the past).

-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)

View quicksilver's profile

quicksilver

29 posts in 495 days
hardiness zone 7

posted 01-02-2014 03:17 AM

I love them, but they don’t like me.
No reason to grow.
Thanks for showing.

-- Quicksilver

View Harold and Pam's profile

Harold and Pam

253 posts in 1682 days
hardiness zone 10b

posted 01-02-2014 04:16 AM

Beautiful. I wonder who figured out the mounding process and the need. Most other products you simply plant. So it always baffles me how people come up with ideas to make something work. And to think they must have been determined since (as you said) if they are exposed to light they become poisonous.

-- Pam grows 'em - I cook 'em...... Melbourne, Fl

View Radicalfarmergal's profile

Radicalfarmergal

4296 posts in 1870 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 01-02-2014 01:12 PM

Thank you all for reading and for your nice comments.

Debbie, I don’t have a good source for straw either. I usually use very weather-worn hay (bales that my sons have used as archery targets or baseball backstops all summer) or grass clippings from the lawn. The one time I purchased straw (it was more expensive than hay), it sprouted like crazy. Just because a seller calls it “straw”, it might not actually be straw. When your grandchildren are older, you can plant potatoes again and they can help you; they are so fun to harvest with children!

Quicksilver, I agree that it is best to grow what we can eat. By not growing potatoes, you have more room for radishes, cucumber, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers…... : )

Harold and Pam, it is amazing what people have discovered by gardening, probably by being very observant and through experimentation. As you may already know, the wild potato was originally discovered, bred and cultivated by the Incas, who were amazing farmers. They used technology such as irrigation, terraces and freeze-dried storage methods to provide enough food to support a large, thriving civilization in a very challenging environment (the Andes mountains). In addition to potatoes, they also grew corn, quinoa, beans, tomatoes, avocados, peppers, strawberries, peanuts, squash, sweet potatoes, bananas, pineapples and coco leaves to make chocolate. We have many reasons to thank the Incas.

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

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Radicalfarmergal

4296 posts in 1870 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 01-02-2014 03:32 PM

Harold, I have been thinking about your comment about the potatoes. High levels of glycoalkaloids taste very bitter so it also could have been the pursuit of a better tasting potato that resulted in the mounding around potatoes rather than an avoidance of poisoning. Perhaps both aims influenced their practices. Also I want to make a correction to my post above, they grew coco leaves were to make tea, not chocolate. I was mixing up the Incas and Aztecs, I apologize for the mistake.

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

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Radicalfarmergal

4296 posts in 1870 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 01-02-2014 06:36 PM

My list above also includes food grown by the Mayan people. I need to check my sources more carefully!

Here is an interesting article (harvard.edu) about the crops and agriculture of the Incas.

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

14682 posts in 2608 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 01-02-2014 11:02 PM

and there I thought mounding was just to get more potatoes.

-- - Debbie, SW Ontario Canada (USDA Hardiness Zone: 5a)

View Harold and Pam's profile

Harold and Pam

253 posts in 1682 days
hardiness zone 10b

posted 01-03-2014 12:16 AM

My goodness Robin, you are a wealth of knowledge and info. No, I knew none of this. I just know that when I’m out of some, I go to the grocery store!

-- Pam grows 'em - I cook 'em...... Melbourne, Fl

View Radicalfarmergal's profile

Radicalfarmergal

4296 posts in 1870 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 01-03-2014 01:08 PM

Hello Harold,

I was caught inside yesterday by too much snow, blowing wind and frigid temperatures; evidently I just had too much free time on my hands. If I lived down south, near you and Pam, I would have been out playing in my garden! Have you brought home those chickens you wanted yet?

Debbie, of course the mounding is to get more potatoes! You were right on track. : )

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View Greenthumb's profile

Greenthumb

2287 posts in 2427 days

posted 01-05-2014 08:06 PM

Nice work Rad., ….. always enjoy your posts.

-- just one more rock, and the garden is done ; )

View Radicalfarmergal's profile

Radicalfarmergal

4296 posts in 1870 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 01-06-2014 01:27 PM

Thank you, Greenthumb : )

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View justjoel's profile

justjoel

1062 posts in 1988 days
hardiness zone 7a

posted 01-27-2014 07:09 PM

My backyard growing space is too small to try potatoes (as companion planting suggestions show there are too many things that they aren’t compatible with, like tomatoes), so I’m just going to have to watch yours grow instead!

-- "We are stardust. We are golden. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." Joni Mitchell

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Radicalfarmergal

4296 posts in 1870 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 01-30-2014 12:48 AM

Justjoel, I have never tried this myself, but I have read about potato towers made from bottomless boxes or old tires that you stack up on each other. You just add another level and fill it with layers of soil and mulch as the potato plant grows.

I know what you mean about not having enough room. Even with all of our space, I grow more tomatoes, potatoes and peppers than any other crops and I run out of prepared garden space that hasn’t had Solanaceae growing there in the past few years. I seem to solve this dilemma each year by expanding my gardens into existing lawn, but do I have enough energy for ever-increasing gardens? : )

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View Iris43's profile

Iris43

3807 posts in 2237 days
hardiness zone 5a

posted 01-30-2014 05:43 PM

Robin, I grew some potatoes last summer. I loved growing them (they make such nice tidy plants and they flower!) I also loved eating them! Mine were also knobby and lumpy. Didn’t hurt the flavour and I usually just scrub the potatoes to cook them whether for baking or boiling.

I’m sorry I didn’t make note of the variety…..but for me any potato wil do. :) I had room for only three 4’ rows. I would love to plant my whole garden with potatoes but that would still only give me a plot of 5’X8’. And potatoes do take quite abit of space. However, I was happy with my results. As I get older, it is harder for me to keep up with my gardening. I have to grow flowers!

Robin,thank you for showing us your experience with potato growing. It has encouraged me to try again this year and maybe another row or two. :)

-- 'To plant a Garden is to believe in Tomorrow'

View Radicalfarmergal's profile

Radicalfarmergal

4296 posts in 1870 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 01-31-2014 04:03 PM

Iris, I think potatoes look lovely too. They do take up space. Because they are a root crop, I have to be careful not to plant them too close to other plants, such as perennials, that might be harmed in their harvest. Next year, I am going to inter-crop the potatoes with runner beans (up the fence), kale and cabbage, and I plan to plant Nasturtiums and Calendula along the edges to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects as well as adding color. In my winter optimism, I have allotted approximately 100 square feet for next year’s potatoes and that would definitely be too large an area for your lovely backyard wildlife sanctuary. What would all your wildlife visitors do if you didn’t have all those lovely flowers? Does your daughter grow potatoes?

My mother enjoyed growing sweet corn and potatoes when she was younger, but she has had to really cut back on her gardening. I wish she lived closer to me. She could putter around in my garden when she had the energy and desire, and then she could just relax when she was finished, without having any worries that the tending wouldn’t get done. She has put down deep roots in the desert; however, I cannot imagine every persuading her to move east. My aunt and uncle, who live much closer to me, have also dramatically reduced the size of their gardens. My aunt still plants a little vegetable garden and they have children living next door who have taken over the large summer garden. If we can find ways to make gardening easier as we age, we can keep doing what we love.

Have you ever read the book Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards by Sara Stein? If you can find a copy at your local library, I think you will enjoy it. She also wrote a sequel called Planting Noah’s Garden. Enjoy your potatoes and flowers this summer, Iris. Thank you for your story; I always enjoy your comments and the beautiful photos you share on GT.

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View Greenthumb's profile

Greenthumb

2287 posts in 2427 days

posted 02-03-2014 12:55 AM

I am a skeptic as to whether a “tire” can make a potato look good, ….

a garden should be a pleasant lesson of yesterday, a smile for today, and a hope for tomorrow

and in some circumstances, I suppose a potato plant could make a tire look better : )

-- just one more rock, and the garden is done ; )

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Radicalfarmergal

4296 posts in 1870 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 02-06-2014 12:39 PM

Greenthumb, I believe Justjoel could use his artistry to make anything look lovely in his gardens, even tires!

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View justjoel's profile

justjoel

1062 posts in 1988 days
hardiness zone 7a

posted 02-06-2014 04:33 PM

I am honored by the faith all-y’all have in my (apparently superhuman) artistic abilities. :-) I’ve never used a tire as a planter thingy, and am not sure I will, as much as I love re-purposing. However, if I were to, I might start by Goggling “tire planters turned inside out.” Trust me, these folks know what they are doing.

-- "We are stardust. We are golden. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." Joni Mitchell

View Radicalfarmergal's profile

Radicalfarmergal

4296 posts in 1870 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 02-23-2014 01:05 PM

I looked at those tire planter ideas on Google and many of them are amazing, functional and beautiful. Thank you for the idea, JustJoel.

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

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