Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Bountiful Potato Crop

It seems that every year, shortly after we've put our seed potatoes in the ground, we get a huge rain. In past years this has washed potatoes right out of their trenches or caused them to rot in the ground. Consequently, in past years our potato crop has been minimal, perhaps 10-30% of normal. This year was no different, except I managed to put a large tarp over the potato bed before the worst of the rains came. A day or two later I removed it, and the ground looked wet but not sodden. As the growing year progressed, we got quite good germination of the seed potatoes, which we estimated between 75-80%. The two potatoes on the ends of the bed had been flooded worse than those in the middle, so they were stunted in their germination.

Red Gold
The potato sprouts grew and grew, becoming big bushes with beautiful white or purple flowers. We hilled them up with dirt and shredded straw, and the plants were green and healthy. We had no significant pest pressure, which coupled with a good preseason fertilization promised an excellent crop.

Potatoes are ready to dig when the vines have almost completely died back. The first three early potatoes that we dug in late July were three red varieties: Red Gold, Dark Red Norland, and Red Thumb. We got a truly great yield of Red Golds, but only a small yield of the other two. Dark Red Norland is a red-skinned white potato that was great in home fries, while the Red Gold has yellow flesh and is great for roasting. We probably got around 15-20 lbs of Red Golds and perhaps 10-15 lbs of the other two combined.

A month later the rest of the potato vines had died back and they were dug in late August. The yields were amazing and it was incredible fun to use my new broadfork to lift and expose a huge number of potatoes per plant. I filled three 5 gal pails and two large baskets full of potatoes and hauled them down to the house from the garden with my ATV.

Nicola (l) & Red Pontiac (r)
Carola (upper) & LaRatte (lower)
The August harvest of potatoes included: Carola (20 lbs) and Nicola (42 lbs), yellow flesh potatoes good for baking or roasting; LaRatte (16 lbs), a white-fleshed fingerling; German Butterball (20 lbs), a gold-fleshed potato that pretty much tastes like it sounds; and finally, Red Pontiac (21 lbs), a red-skinned, white-fleshed potato really good for mashing. All together these potatoes weighed 119 lbs. Add to that the minimum 20 lbs of potatoes from the July Harvest and out potato crop came in at least 140 lbs!

Potatoes Stored in the Wine Cellar
I sold 15 lbs of Nicola to the Highlands Food and Farm Market in Davis, which is run by Kimmy as part of the Potomac Highlands Food and Farm Initiative (PHFFI). This is a wonderful market that showcases local farm products, including vegetables, meat, cheese, honey, etc., and even though my contribution was minimal, I was proud that someone was going to eat food that I personally raised.

In Columbus, I sold another 20 lbs to my friend Tricia at The Seasoned Farmhouse, and she used the LaRatte potatoes that I sold her in a cooking class! If you are unaware of this wonderful resource, Tricia has created a cooking school and demonstration kitchen, and offers classes that range from salads and deserts to a comprehensive 30-week French-focused cooking course. If you live in Columbus, please check this place out, but hurry, as the classes fill very fast. I took the 30-week course this past year, and it was an incredible experience.

2014 Onion Crop
Lastly, we also had a decent onion crop this year. We planted four varieties and harvested 38 lbs of onions. We are very happy with these two crops and we've learned which varieties of potatoes and onions are best suited to our soil and climate. The potato bed has been tilled and planted with cover crop, and it will become the home of a different crop in 2015.

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