Potatoes, part 1

Larry G. Field
Thursday, June 13, 2019
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This segment should please all who have a “meat & potatoes” person in the family. Potatoes are a root crop. Tubers form on

the fibrous root system

in which the starches produced in the leaves by photosynthesis are stored. Cooks will admit that there are seemingly endless ways of cooking them. Much has been written about them, as computer using gardeners should know. National Geographic has published articles about the global varieties, famines and crop history. I have donated my geographic collection so I cannot confirm the articles, but several have had impressive pictures, try Nat. Geo. magazines from the following dates: Sept. 1980 and May 1982.

I normally average 10 lbs of potatoes per plant, or “hill” of potatoes. When asked how I get such impressive yields I admit that I talk to the plants! When the questioner asks, “What?” I reply that if I want 10 plants, I plant 11. Midway through the growing season I walk to the center of the row with a shovel and chop the daylights out of one plant. I then say to the remaining potatoes, “The rest of you better produce or you will be next!” You should see the crops that I get! This is obviously not true, but my growing technique is nearly as unusual.

We used to plant 10 plants (too much) but I now plant 4 red and 2 white. That will provide all that we will consume in a year. I plant the spring crop on Good Friday. We will dig one hill of reds on two separate occasions in early July to make fresh creamed peas and potatoes (occasionally adding carrots). The remaining 40 pounds harvested when the plant tops die will be moved to the cellar and buried in sand. On rare occasions I will plant a “fall crop” plant or two directly replacing the first two harvested in July. It is said that the plant tops should die prior to harvesting or the tubers will spoil; I have had no ill effects of early harvest but I usually adhere to the saying. If the tops of your potatoes have not died prior to the first hard frost, it will make no difference since the tubers are well insulated underground; simply let the frost kill the tops so that they will dry.

I use a shovel to harvest. While digging (harvesting) the potatoes, some will be cut. The starches of the potato are rot resistant. I normally separate the cut from the others. The uncut are washed, air dried and sand buried in the cellar; the cut are washed, air dried and stored in a crisper drawer of the refrigerator. The cut are used first.

When digging I begin with two pails half filled with water. The spuds can be dropped into the water which protects them from bruising and begins softening the clinging soil. If two pails do not hold the crop, I get another two half-water-filled pails and con- tinue. I take steps to reduce bruising with all harvests, especially pears, apples, cucumbers and tomatoes.

See Potatoes, Part II in next week’s Outlook.

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