Everyone’s favorite comfort vegetable, potatoes, especially when freshly dug and cured, are creamy, mineral-y, decadent love offerings from the subterranean. A divine box of chocolates from Mother Earth, each potato is individually wrapped, a skin of dense nutrients encasing a perfect starch-bomb energy store. The poet Pablo Neruda deemed the potato the “enemy of hunger in all nations,” and “an interminable treasure trove of the people.”
We prefer to eat small, new potatoes steamed whole with a bit of butter and sea salt. There’s something magical about the elemental collision of earth and ocean, made carnate by a sea-salted potato. A great potato requires magnificent salt. Please don’t scrimp! If you dare to add a third element, by all means, whip them to introduce air.
At the Slow Food International Congress, Terra Madre in 2008, we were privileged to meet inspiring growers from all over the world, including Incan farmers from Peru and other parts of the Andes, who are working to preserve the less common varieties of potato. We would suggest that you do your part to save our biodiversity as well, by growing heirloom tubers.
We grow both round and fingerling varieties, including Yukon Gold, Mountain Rose, Austrian Crescent Fingerling, and French Fingerling.
You can find good options at Ronniger Potato Farm, Gladheart Farms, Seed Savers Exchange, and Fedco.
What I’m Wearing
Available in multiple mixes of skin and flesh color combos, potatoes may have yellow, red, and purple skin teamed up with yellow, red, or purple flesh. Sometimes perfectly round and symmetrical, other times knobby, count on a potato to add texture to any dish.
Potatoes always wear the character of the soil, whether they carry an earthiness, minerality, salinity, or sweetness. Round, young potatoes pack a robust creaminess, whereas fingerlings retain a certain amount of starchiness, making them perfect for a recipe such as potato salad, which calls for a firmer tater.
How to Grow
In the early spring, we order certified disease-free potatoes to leave in a semi-dark room, and keep them on racks until we get several beautiful, sprouting eyes. These eyes are the future seedlings of the potato. If the potatoes are small to medium, we typically leave them uncut, but you can halve larger ones as long as you have at least one or two good eyes on each cut side.
- On our farm, we plant only one potato crop around March 1. However, depending on your climate and season, you can plant multiple successions of potatoes.
- We prepare our potato beds by digging a furrow down the length of the bed and by amending with an inch of compost and an organic, balanced fertilizer. We plant one row of potatoes to a bed, keeping rows 3-4’ apart.
- To plant, drop sprouted potatoes into the furrow about 12-18” apart. When dropping them, we try to get the eyes to face upward and, depending on time, we will slightly bury them in the furrow. After you have dropped the entire row, lightly cover with around 2” of soil.
- We will then hill potatoes every week by mounding soil with a hoe over the emerging seedlings, but without burying them again. This can be done until harvest if necessary, adding the benefit of continual weed cultivation, and providing a larger rhizosphere, or “root area,” for tubers to grow. Keep in mind that the root systems that grow the tuber only develop outward and up, and not downward as some may think.
- Our main pest is the Colorado potato beetle. This insect, like all others, has several life stages. Adults are harder to find, but we have lots of luck squishing slow-moving larvae during our weekly scouting. They turn your fingers a brackish-orange and make a flock of chickens very happy.
- To determine harvest, keep track of planting date and the number of days recommended to harvest. We typically use pitchforks, drawing an imaginary circle about 12” wide around the base of the plant, to avoid puncturing them while digging.
- Fresh potatoes can be eaten immediately and are prized for their tender, new skins. However, potatoes can also be cured in a dry, room temperature space to allow skins to slightly desiccate. Keep them in the dark and they can store for upwards of six months or more.
There’s no denying it: the potato is one uber-versatile veg. Creamed, whipped, mashed, baked, smashed, scalloped, fried into chips or double stuffed, the potato is the little black dress of the food world: suitable for any occasion. Talk about super-luxurious, soul-satisfying goodness: try these Twice Baked Potatoes from Food Network Magazine. Did we say comfort food? Yes, we did. Alton Brown’s Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes would brighten even the rainiest of days. Feeling a little adventurous, but watching your calories? Try a slimmed-down spin on potato chips with Ellie Krieger’s Cracked Pepper Potato Chips with Onion Dip. Personally, we’re rushing home to make Food Network Magazine‘s delectable Four-Cheese Scalloped Potatoes. If that’s not a crowd-pleaser, we don’t know what is. Head on over to FN Dish for even more great spuds.
In this Garden to Table feature, farmer-bloggers Judith Winfrey and Joe Reynolds offer their tips for sowing, growing and harvesting.
And then we kick it over to FN Dish for some delicious recipes using
this seasonal produce.