Sunday, July 6, 2008

Potatoes on the Fourth

We harvested our first crop of potatoes on July 4. It seemed like an appropriately American thing to do, and it turned out to be more exciting than a fireworks show.

I have loved potatoes since I was a small child and have secretly harbored a desire to grow them for a long time. That desire was renewed a couple of years ago when we lived in Virginia and visited the Abingdon farmers market regularly. Later in the season, a fellow would show up with a potato I had never seen before -- a small, longish white potato called a French fingerling. We roasted them as he suggested and got hooked.

The guy who sold us the potatoes told me he had ordered the seed potatoes from Colorado, but they obviously took to the local climate, and I told myself then, "If you ever get the chance, those are the kind you are going to grow."

Of course, there are many kinds of potatoes, and to limit yourself to one kind is as unwise as limiting yourself to one kind of ice cream. So, early this year when I started planning the garden, I found Ronniger's in Colorado as a source for seed potatoes. I started through their web site and got dazzled by the many kinds and varieties they had available. They did have French fingerlings, and that was where I started.

Now, I should state at this point that I knew nothing -- NOTHING -- about preparing, planting or digging potatoes. My ignorance was absolute. (Had someone told me that potatoes grew on potato trees, I probably would have believed them.) But I was determined. I read what I could find about the process. I tried to ask questions in a way that wouldn't reveal ignorance or stupidity. I ordered the potatoes I wanted -- French fingerlings, Burbank russets and Russian bananas (some kind of cousin to the fingerling, I think) -- from Ronniger's. One pound of each. No use taking simple failure to outright disaster, I reasoned. I found a couple of other varieties (Yukon gold and Kennebec reds) locally. All told, I had about six pounds of potatoes.

I put them in the ground about mid-March.

I watched and waited. After a couple of weeks, nothing was happening, so I asked a friend who knew something about this. Be patient, he said. They'll show up before long.

He was right. They started poking their heads through the soil after about three weeks. Then they grew and grew. By the end of April they were full and healthy, and by the late of May, they were nearly chest high. Their few blossoms were beautiful (see the picture below). I mounded the soil around them as I was instructed by my reading. I mulched and composted -- not too much, but enough to keep them going. (The only slow ones were the Yukon golds, for reasons I have not discerned. They may be slow, or they may not have been good seeds to begin with.)

All this was great. But there was a lingering question: Were there any potatoes under the big, bold, beautiful plants?

As June approached, I would not resist the temptation. I dug gingerly around one of the mounds, and VOILA! Potatoes! Beautiful, wonderful potatoes.

I have been digging and poking around for a month now, but we decided that the full harvest must be done soon. I had been reading about the possibility of a fall crop, so I wanted to get this first crop finished. I designated July the Fourth as the appropriate and memorable day for the Great Potato Dig on Frog's Farm.

And so it was.

We (Sally, Jane, Frank and Owen) spent an hour of the early evening pulling up potato vines and tossing potatoes into the buckets and wheelbarrow. My six pounds of seed potatoes produced well more than 50 pounds of potatoes (maybe as much as 60 pounds considering all the robbing I had been doing in June.) I had spent the last week constructing a potato shelf that we could set in the basement and use for storage. I had no idea how big it should be, so I just guessed and used the wood that I had on hand. As it turned out, the shelf was just right, and it holds all of the potatoes with a little room to spare.

So, the potatoes are in.

Now it's on to the second crop. I have ordered five pounds of Canelas, two pounds of German butterballs, and one pound of Golden Sunburst (don't you just love those names), and I plan to get them into the ground this week. Then we can look forward to September potatoes.

Update: I put in the new crop of potatoes yesterday (Monday, July 7). All of row 15 was taken up by the Canelas, and the German butterballs and Golden Sunburst share row 14. Many of the pieces had begun to sprout small shoots, so I am anxious to see how they do when they are in the ground. We need rain very badly.

1 comment:

Lisa Byerley Gary said...

My granny would have called all these varieties "arsh potatoes." Irish potatoes are the alternative, of course, to sweet potatoes.