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