Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Diggin' My Potatoes

We planted Red Pontiac potatoes from R.H. Shumway in early April. They could have been planted earlier, but we didn't have the soil prepared yet. You can plant potatoes as soon as the ground can be worked. The earlier you plant them, the sooner they can be harvested, and since potatoes are more of a cold weather food than summer food, it's best to get them in the garden early so you aren't harvesting them in the dead-heat of July (like we did).

I wasn't all that impressed with the potato eyes that I received from R.H. Shumway. They sent 25 eyes, but out of those, only 12 seemed to be usable. The other pieces didn't actually contain any eyes, and from all that I have read, the eye is where the plant grows from. Many of them also seemed to be rotten, but I planted them anyway. I have never grown potatoes, so what do I know about rotten eyes, right?

I waited for weeks to see the potato plants emerge, but nothing happened. I had almost given up all hope, when four weeks after planting, I saw a little green leaf emerge from the ground. Oh the joy! In the coming week, more and more leaves emerged! Out of the 12 eyes I planted, 8 plants grew successfully.

I continued to hill up the soil around the plants, making sure never to cover the growing point, until I had hilled up about 6" of soil around each plant. This hilling up is done to protect the new tubers from the sunlight. Light makes the potatoes turn green and become poisonous.

I have read several different opinions on when to harvest potatoes. One gardener suggested digging the potatoes when the flowers fade. I tried this, but my potatoes were still very very small, so I covered them back up. Another suggested I wait until the plants have completely died back, so I gave this a try. It seemed to take forever for the plants to die back!

It's hard to tell the cucumber from the potato plant in this picture, because the cucumbers really took over this plot in the garden. The potato is in the foreground. It has no leaves, because it has died back.

potato plant

I wasn't sure where exactly the potatoes form on a potato plant, so I dug very carefully into the ground to make sure I didn't cut into one. I was so excited to come upon my first grouping of potatoes!

potatoes in ground

I dug around and under the plant very carefully so I could lift it out of the ground and photograph it. Isn't this so cool? Each plant produced about five potatoes of varying sizes. Some of the potatoes could have used more growing time and others were huge!

potato tubers on plant

After you dig the potatoes, place them in a cool, shady spot to cure for a couple hours. Do not wash the potatoes until you are ready to cook them. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place. It is a good idea to store the potatoes on a wire rack so they get adequate air circulation. Storing in plastic bags is not such a great idea since the air cannot circulate and the potatoes touch each other, thus promoting rot.


Norman was a great help in digging the potatoes!

norman with potatoes

I think we got a nice harvest of potatoes this year. I'm not sure if I will plant potatoes again next year since we don't eat so many potatoes in the summer. If I do grow them again, I will be sure to plant them in early March so they can be harvested in May or June.

I recommend R.H. Shumway at your own risk. I think they have been around for a long time, and the chammomile seeds I purchased from them have performed well, but if I was counting on all 25 potatoes that I ordered to grow, I would have been really disappointed. Their website is not all that great, but their catalog is really cool. It has an old-timey feel to it as all the images are hand-drawn. If nothing else, request their catalog and browse through it during the cold days of winter. It's a fun read.

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