With a great crop growing in the garden this year, potatoes are on my mind. And also on my plate. The harvest is not ready yet, but I cannot resist digging around close to the surface for some of those delicious small new ones to cook with fresh peas, and serve with a good dollop of butter.
I grew Kennebec, and if the size of the crop underground is as prolific as the plants above the ground, I should have plenty of potatoes for weeks to come.
There are many varieties of seed potatoes available, and if possible, buy them locally. That way, you are sure of getting the particular kinds that will do well in this area. I have tried out a lot of exotic potatoes (is that an oxymoron?), but eventually go back to the tried and true. I do like the yellow fingerling variety, especially for potato salad, but this year I will have to search for them at the produce counters.
Potato yield and quality depend heavily on the soil in which they are grown. The best crops will come from highly organic soil or sandy loam. Neither of which can be found in our part of the country unless the soil has been steadily amended over a period of years. Our heavy clay will just have to do. A big dose of compost at planting time is a big help. Too much manure will contribute to scab disease, which is a nuisance, but not serious, and acid soil with loose texture is ideal.
I just looked up the correct spacing for the seed pieces I planted, and I certainly did not keep to protocol! The recommended distance is 2 inches deep, 8-12 inches apart and rows 2-3 feet apart. I stuck mine in the ground with the tuber pieces about 6 inches apart in every direction, and they are flourishing.
One day, I am going to write a column about all the ways I break the gardening rules, but then I would probably be drummed out of Master Gardeners, and I would miss my friends!
Once potato plants have flowered, they need a regular water supply. Even a temporary lack of moisture will cause cracked or malformed potatoes.
Digging the potatoes is one of my favorite gardening tasks. It is a veritable treasure hunt, and I usually have one or more children with me to help with the job. Once dug, the crop should be left in the air for a few hours for the skins to harden, but not for too long or they will turn green.
My grandmother always used to say green potatoes caused cancer, and although that probably is an old wives' tale, I am always sure to pare away any green parts.
Potatoes can be stored in any cool, dark space and will remain usable for a long time.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.
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