Tag Archives: potatoes

red thumb fingerling potatoes

A quick reminder of the beauty of nature on a Sunday morning when I sliced open some fingerlings to make the family a simple roasted potato and scrambled egg breakfast.

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Spuds growing up

It’s the time of year when we dig through our potato stacks, collect the dirty, jewel-toned potatoes and start to pick our favorite potato recipes. This year we grew six varieties in our stacking potato towers. We alternated layers of 50/50 compost/soil and straw. It was interesting to see the layers when we began to unearth the potatoes.

The chickens were super interested in the potato harvest. Pepper was the most involved. Of course, she’s very interested in all human behaviors.


I planted 1# of each variety in the stacking boxes. Here’s the yield:
viking purple – 2#
german butterball – 6#
russian banana – 1.5#
french fingerling – 5#
princess 1.75#
red thumb 2#

Conclusion: 99% of the potatoes were in the bottom box of our stacked wooden boxes. That means our shoveling, stacking, side dressing and work was for naught. We could have achieved the same yield by growing potatoes in the ground. I’m happy we grew potatoes, don’t get me wrong. Nothing beats the taste of a fresh-dug, homegrown potato. The yield of some of our ’11 varieties was good, but overall, the stacking method was a lot of work without a lot of benefit. We’ll be retiring the wooden boxes next year in favor of planting in-ground rows. It will take up more space, but we can squeeze ’em in since we added those 400 square feet at the community garden. Now, we have to figure out what we can reuse these stacking wooden boxes for…. Any ideas?

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Filed under fall, garden, urban farming

Adventures in Vertical Potatoes

In 2009, we grew poatoes in stacked tires on a lark. That was fun. The potatoes were delicious and we were converted to enthusiastic potato growers. Occasionally, I come across something about how important potatoes are for self-reliance gardening and I think that we really need to grow more of them.

In 2010, Krista built wooden stacking potato boxes. I wrote about why we switched from tires to wooden stacks here. We also grew potatoes in burlap bags from local coffee roasters, although apparently I have never blogged about that. I found burlap bags to be an unsatisfactory way to grow potatoes. The burlap bags were free though, and I composted them afterwards. No harm, no foul.

I buy our seed potatoes at a local nursery. I wrote about the varieties we planned to grow here if you are interested. We planted them in our faithful wooden stacks again this year, but we have been more attentive about mounding the plants regularly. Hopefully our diligence will be rewarded with a better yield. We haven’t harvested yet, but the plants are much taller and heartier than we have ever grown before.

The neighborhood deer have been voracious this summer, causing serious damage to the potatoes a few weeks ago. We covered the stacks with deer netting and as you can see, the plants grew back with a vengeance. The wooden stacks work well with deer netting because you can tuck it all around the edges.

This is a sort of experimental method, so we’ll report back when the plants die back. We planted late this year so we have weeks to go before harvest. And then? Potato salad, potato tacos, potato soup, roasted potatoes and colcannon for us, and maybe some of our hard-earned tips for growing vertical potatoes for you.

xoxo,
Jess

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2011 Spuds: Seed potato shopping!

It’s that time of year. I bought seed potatoes. In the past, I went to Black Lake Organic for seed potatoes. Good prices, good selection, all organic, what more could I want? But BLO is shifting their focus and they no longer carry seed potatoes. So now I drive to Yelm to visit Gordon’s Nursery. It’s kind of a haul for potatoes, but I like shopping there. They have many varieties of organic seed potatoes and I can usually justify buying “just one more” blueberry or huckleberry or strawberry. I brought home six varieties of potatoes this year, but I could have bought a lot more.

I picked three full size potatoes: Cal White (early), Viking Purple (mid-season), and German Butterball (mid-season). I have grown Cal’s in the past and I loved them. I picked the Viking Purples because I try to grow a purple potato each year, and they are scab resistant. I picked German Butterballs because they’re prolific & delicious & our teenage German Student child loves most German food, like beer and sausage, at least in theory.

Krista loves to cook with fingerling potatoes. We prioritize growing them because organic fingerlings cost a small fortune. I picked up three fingerling varieties: French Fingerling, which we grew last year and loved, Russian Banana, another beloved 2010 spud, and Princess La Ratte. A lot of people love La Ratte potatoes in the PNW. I have never grown the Princess because it’s such a pretentious name for a potato, but I thought maybe 2011 is the year for a pretentious potato.

Last year we grew potatoes in wooden stacks that Krista built. I also grew some fingerlings in re-purposed burlap bags from a local coffee roastery a la Sustainable Eats. The year before that, we grew potatoes in recycled tires. I’ve discussed why we switched to wooden stacks. Although I was happy with the yield of both tires & wood boxes, the stacks had better drainage and were easier to manage. It’s difficult to compare my results from each method because there were many variables: temperature, water, different soil, different microclimate and so many potato varieties. So when people ask how I recommend growing potatoes in small spaces on small budgets, I don’t have enough information to answer them as effectively as I’d like.

Fortunately, Organic Gardening Magazine did some fieldwork for me. This article is long over-due in my opinion, and I couldn’t be happier that they wrote it. O.G. found that growing in the field (hill/mound method) is good enough, as potato farmers from centuries ago could have told you. But not all of us have that much space. Growing in raised beds is more productive than a field of hills, but requires a lot of dirt. Growing in wooden stacks is as good as raised beds, but energy-intensive to start. Growing in wire cylinders, grow bags, trash bags and straw are less ideal for reasons like yield, drainage, moisture, pests and cost. I want to see more data about with which varieties respond best to aggressive hilling (or stacking). Growing varieties that respond well to aggressive hilling is crucial to produce a lot of food in a small space. You might notice I’m not growing Yukon Golds this year, even though we love to eat them. They don’t respond well to being buried. Also, some methods will inevitably work better in different areas than others, adjusting for issues like drainage, temperatures & soil quality. But the Organic Gardening article is a big step in the right direction. Growing potatoes is such an experiment. I love the resourceful, creative ways people try to produce such a humble food.

Considering the Organic Gardening findings and the resources we’ve already sunk into the stacks, we will be growing potatoes in our wooden stacks again this year. Honestly, I have to grow potatoes in these stacks for years to make them cost-effective and I really enjoy using them, so I would use them no matter what Organic Gardening said. It’s convenient that I happen to love them.

I admit that if I see organic seed potatoes around town in the next few weeks, I will pick up a few more lbs. I can’t really help myself. Homegrown potatoes are worlds and epic legions better than potatoes from the store. I love growing & eating potatoes, but they are also an important crop. Potatoes are probably the best way to grow the most calories in the smallest amount of space. I don’t foresee my family adopting a 1-block diet, but the more calories we get from our yard the better, especially mashed, baked, french fried and roasted.

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TOTALLY STACKED: CAN’T YOU ALMOST TASTE THE POTATO SALAD

As I mentioned previously, we bought a lot of seed potatoes this year. And our plan was to build potato stacks to grow them in, instead of the tires we grew the taters in last year. In case you’re new to our madness, we’re trying to maximize potato production on our small urban lot. Potatoes are one of the best ways to grow calories on your land if you have a small space. Also, potatoes are awesome, delicious, versatile, and store for longer than, say, juicy heirloom tomatoes.

Here it is, first week of May and my potatoes are still chitting in the kitchen windowsill, far away from dirt and the potato stacks were still just piles of lumber, scribbled diagrams on scrap paper, and a handful of dreams.

This is a great example of how much better we really are as a pair than I could ever be individually. My wonderful, newly self-taught carpenter spouse spent her weekend in the garage, bringing together the potato stacks. And it was like a miracle to see them go from a stack of boards directly into the form we’d dreamed up months ago, before the potatoes sprouted and before she knew how to use a table saw.

Aren’t they lovely? The corner posts are fir 2×2’s, the slats are cedar fence boards cut to length. The bottom level is stationary, and all the upper boxes slide on as the potato grows, and off as it’s time to harvest. Then, before the sun set on us, we planted one full of organic seed potatoes. Working full time in an office while you’re trying to grow your sub-compact farm means you’re always racing the sunset to get the potatoes planted. Here’s an All Blue potato getting ready to be buried.

And here’s the stack with one level, planted with yukon golds, cal reds and all blues. They are all mid-season potatoes. My dream is that the day we harvest this stack will be the day we eat multicolored potato salad.

Hopefully within the next few days we can get the rest of the potatoes into the ground, and eventually we can host a potato harvest festival with garlic mashed potatoes, chipotle mashed potatoes, vegan sheppards pie, rosemary roasted breakfast potatoes, potato tacos, latkes, pierogies, baked french fries, potato salad. My fingers are crossed.

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Addicted to spuds…

I may have a problem. I need an intervention. I’m addicted to seed potatoes. We went to Yelm last weekend on a tip from one of my Master Gardener friends. We brought home four more varieties of organic, heirloom seed potatoes. I tried to balance out the seed potatoes we already have so it’s not too, too ridiculous. That means we are growing 8 varieties of potatoes this year. Yes, I am using my expensive liberal arts environmental science education to become an urban potato farmer.

Row 1: Carola + Yellow Finn
These are both late season, yellow, good storage potatoes, as opposed to the early season seed potatoes I already have.

Row 2: Russian Banana + Rose Finn Apple
Russian Banana is one of the top gourmet potatoes. I’m tired of reading about it. I want to grow them myself, with their heavy yields and waxy texture. Rose Finn Apple potatoes are one of the best tasting fingerlings & good for storage.

We’ve cut our seed potatoes and set them out to dry – we want them to develop a callous before they are planted in the dirt.

This is a french fingerling. I just cannot express how delighted I am by this potato.

This is All Blue. When I sliced it open, all i could say was WOW! I mean, that is intense! It dripped bluish purplish juice all over the counter.

All of this has really put the pressure on to figure out our potato stacks. I had the good fortune of stumbling (literally) into some cheap-ass untreated cedar fence boards at Lowes last weekend. I think they will make the most lovely potato stacks, and they were 6′ long – which I can fit in my compact car! Hurray for hauling lumber in a tiny Toyota.

Everything I read (and I mean everything!) gives me a different date for planting potatoes. Since we were successful last year, I’m going to go back to my garden journals and plant when I planted last year. Normally I prefer the corroborating evidence of experts, but they refuse to corroborate, so I am on my own.

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Spuds & Fingerlings

In honor of St Patrick’s day, I present the potatoes! I come from Scotch-Irish Protestants, though, so I’m skipping the green-wearing Catholicism references of the holiday, and just celebrating the all-mighty carbohydrate.

After our success with potato growing last summer, it’s fair to say we have been anxiously awaiting our return to potato farming. I bought four pounds of regular potatoes at Black Lake Organic ($1/lb) – divided equally among Cal Reds, All Blues, and Yukon Golds. All of these varieties are supposed to make superior potato salad, which is sacred in our house, but I believe they will also be good roasted, boiled, grilled, ka-bob’d, in tacos, on pizzas, broiled, baked and mashed. (Do I sound like, super Irish talking about my potatoes like this?)

I proudly brought home my bag of potatoes, and Krista sent me back for fingerling seed potatoes (i bought a pound. cost: $2/lb because they are special). The fingerlings claim to be french fingerling potatoes and if that isn’t fancy for a potato, I don’t know what is.

Last year, you may remember we grew our potatoes in stacks of tires, which was quite convenient and felt good, like, “hey, we’re reusing actual garbage! and growing food out of it!” And the black tires hold heat well, to keep your taters toasty if you plant out when it’s freezing. Just stack another tire & add more dirt as the potatoes grow, forcing them up. As they grow up, they sent out more horizontal roots and those are the roots that make the potatoes. People seem interested in potato tire stacks, and I field questions about it all the time. Gardeners have been growing potatoes in tire stacks for decades. My dad did it. Maybe your dad did it. This year, though, we have high hopes of growing our potatoes in real wooden stacks, something like this. It’s the same concept as the stacking tires, but layers of boards attached to corner posts.

Why the switch? Twofold – one, it is slightly fancier to use these wooden stacks, i think. We like to constantly challenge ourselves beyond our perceived capacity to achieve things. Two, because there is some concern about leaching of tar, automotive or petroleum chemicals from the tires into the soil and into the potatoes. There has been limited research done on this issue, and the little science I have seen makes me comfortable growing in tires. I have read that tires are chemically stable, and the Earthship people build houses out of them, and have their own research and collected scientific studies on the matter here, if you care to read about it. I would not discourage anyone from growing in tire stacks. I happily ate those delicious potatoes for months! At the same time, I agree that there is perhaps a little irony in going out of your way to buy organic seed, organic dirt, and use organic pest management, but growing in a non-organic container. So I agreed to try untreated wood at my wife’s request. You might notice that the issue of “aesthetics” does not enter this debate at all. I consider it a non-issue. Sprouting green stuff coming out of a tire is ADORABLE. Tire stacks are not ugly.

Regardless – whether you use a tire stack or a wooden bin or a burlap bag or a trash can or the conventional “mound” method to grow potatoes, your result will be better than conventional potatoes available at the grocery store. My advice is to just do what feels right, what you’re capable of, and what you can afford. Potatoes are easy and rewarding to grow. I would recommend them to anyone with 2×2 feet of space, and encourage anyone with more space to plant a lot of potatoes.

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