Dec 072010

My biggest potato

This is the time of year when a gardener gets to study a bit and do some planning for the next season. I’ve been thinking about potatoes. From a number of different sources a new book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times came to my attention. WCL didn’t have it. I asked them to order a copy. When it arrived I read the first chapter and promptly ordered my own. It’s a keeper along with Steve Solomon’s books and Michael Astera’s The Ideal Soil.

Steve Solomon makes the strong point in Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades that we need to follow guidance from gardeners who garden in our region. That is to say, all gardening is local. This means that while we can find Elliot Coleman’s experience in Maine interesting, his techniques aren’t necessarily going to be helpful in the Puget Sound region. Same with John Jeavons intensive gardening techniques. One reason is a particular problem we have in our maritime climate. We have to worry about a creature called the symphylan, a tiny thing about a 1/4 inch long that looks like a white centipede. Symphylans build up after gardening and irrigating in the same place for a few years. They eat plant root hairs and destroy the crop. Steve Solomon’s recommendation is to let beds lie fallow periodically and if one has enough room, to operate two garden plots. Symphylans can become a huge problem.

Which brings us back to potatoes. According to The Resilient Gardener, planting potatoes is one way to lower the symphylan level in the soil. (This book is going to be worth several blog posts over the course of the winter. Carol Deppe is a scientist as well as gardener and her approach is unique and innovative).

My first garden (three seasons ago) was a gorgeous thing full of green leafy veggies. It was a pleasure to look at but I had to give most of the stuff away. You just can’t eat that much lettuce and table cukes. By my third year (last year) I had moved to the idea that I should plant to extend my eating season with stuff we could put by.*  Things like beans, squash and potatoes. So, Carol Deppe’s program to garden for resilience really resonated with me. After all, the goal of gardening in hard times is to grow food, not just salad.

Carol Deppe focuses on five crops: potatoes, squash, beans, corn and eggs (duck eggs). Motivated by celiac’s disease, a gluten intolerance, she developed a program of planting crops that would satisfy her nutritional needs over the course of the year. She goes into great depth on the planting, growing, harvesting, storing, preparing and nutritional benefits of her five main crops.

This past year I planted three different types of potatoes. Two of them (Austrian Crescents and German Butterballs from Territorial Seed) turned out great. The third, russet potatoes I picked up at the Mr. Vernon Co-op were sparse but edible. The butterballs even survived the recent Nor’easter.

Potatoes are a good source of calories, protein and vitamin C. They digest quickly causing a release of sugar into the blood. They are easy to grow, easy to store and rabbits won’t eat the tops. They don’t require huge amounts of water and you can prepare them lots of different ways: fried, boiled, baked, mashed and as salad. Commercially grown potatoes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops; just another reason to grow your own. Homegrown potatoes taste so much better. You can eat them everyday and not get tired of them.

I’ve ordered fingerlings and German Butterballs from Territorial Seed for an April delivery. Next year I need to follow Carol Deppe’s instructions and save my own seed potatoes.

*put by—to save for the future. A term which appeared first in the 15th century.


  3 Responses to “Thinking About Potatoes”

  1. does she have any advice on saving seed potatoes and avoiding the emergence of disease? I’ve always heard and read that if you save your own potatoes for seed you will eventually get very small yields. I’ve used grocery store potatoes (organic) for seed, figuring that they would only be one generation out from the sterile laboratory-made seed ones, since they’re way cheaper than seed potatoes from a gardening source.

  2. She covers all of the stuff that Sarah is asking about.

  3. Great concept here you discuss with the article. I agree that potatoes are a good source of calories, protein and vitamin C. Thanks 🙂

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