Winter Solstice, 2011

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While I was working in the garden this afternoon, I unearthed some gorgeous, purple-skinned, ‘Caribe’ potatoes–the second or third generation of them we’ve grown. Even this late in the year, grown in a small bag, I was still able to pull out three large potatoes, a couple smaller ones, and four mini-tubers I’m hoping to use as seed for this spring. (Since we’ve already mashed and eaten the larger potatoes!)

Other known varieties of potatoes currently in the ground in the garden include ‘Amey Russet’, ‘Rose Gold’, ‘Red Thumb’ and ‘Harlequin’. I’m also nursing along four different potato seedlings grown with TPS from a ‘Toro Dude’ mother. We’ll see if any of them make it through to tuber production. I started with ten seedlings and I’m already down to 40%. They are growing in pots that I set outside during the day and bring inside at night. If any of these tiny plants produce a tiny tuber, I’ll try growing it out this spring to produce enough tubers for tasting. If one of them does well and tastes good, we’ll have a whole new variety to propagate.

TPS Potato PlantsOn this Solstice, I also harvested a handful of yams (the sweet potatoes were all eaten up several weeks ago) and a couple of carrots from a bed I was preparing for the new potato varieties I just ordered from I’m going to try their ‘Lehmi Russet’ which is supposed to yield better than the ‘Russet Burbank’. I’ll see how it compares with our ‘Amey Russets’ which the TaterMater boards say is a better yielder than ‘Russet Burbank’. (Poor ‘Russet Burbank’, why does everyone pick on that variety?) I’ll also be growing ‘Crackled Butterball’ to compare with the ‘German Butterball’ potatoes that have been very popular with us. I chose ‘Mountain Rose’ to expand my reds, since ‘Red Thumb’ is the only red that has done much of anything in the Dirt to Dinner garden so far. And ‘Purple Peruvian’ is a blue fingerling I’ll be trying to expand on the blues. There are still ‘All Blue’ potatoes popping up here and there around the garden, but the straggly volunteers have never really produced much of anything. I gave their mini-progeny a bed of their own for this year to see what we can do to revive them.

Two different types of spinach, many colors of chard, two kinds of kale, several lettuces, arugula, collards, carrots, mustard and turnips are all coming up in nursery beds or flats or volunteering in odd corners of the garden. There’s a whole patch of arugula seedlings in the middle of one of the paths that I’ve been trying to transplant as space opens up. And yesterday I started a big patch of ‘Sugar Snap’ peas. I started them under a trellis just in case they really do grow on 6′-8′ vines like the seed package said.

Growing A New World Potato Sampler


Toro Dude Potato for SeedIt takes a special sort of person to see the beauty in a Potato Sampler box from New World Seeds and Tubers. My husband, for one, just didn’t get it. If he’s gonna look at a potato he wants to see it buttered and already on his plate. But I know beautiful when I see it and, to me, these guys all look gorgeous.

I chose the 8 pound sampler which promised 5 to 20 different varieties “from around the world, special breeding lines that are available only from us and a few classic varieties” of potatoes to try. I specifically asked for any they thought would do well growing vertically, since I wanted them for the 99 Pound Potato Challenge. I was also interested in trying some of the types Carol Deppe mentioned in her book, The Resilient Gardener.

Seed Potato SamplesWhat arrived was a broad sampling of the possibilities of potatoes, twenty-one different clones and nearly forty individual potatoes, many I had never heard of before. In Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, William Woys Weaver says, “Growing heirloom potatoes presents special problems for the gardener because old varieties are not as resistant to disease as modern ones. Futhermore, potato varieties predating the advent of the blight in the 1840’s are to be found only in gene banks or in special botanical collections.”

I honestly don’t know where Tom Wagner finds all of his potatoes, but I am certainly glad that I found him. And I couldn’t wait to start getting these potatoes planted. One of the varieties specifically marked for the vertical growing project was Guisi, a potato I think is named for a Peruvian potato researcher killed tragically near one of his experimental fields.

Fripapa and H98-316 Seed potatoesI got blues, reds and golds. I got fingerlings and smooth rounds, big bulbous blobs and delicate tiny tubers. But some of them don’t even have names! This hefty spud arrived with a number hand-written on its side. A quick Google search turned up an entry from the United States Potato Genebank that looks like H96.316 is an improved variety from the International Potato Center in Peru. Who knew there even was a United States Potato Genebank?

The Fripapa shown here had a hollow center, so I set it aside to research whether or not I should plant it. A potato with a hole in its heart would never pass the Carol Deppe rogue test. She cautions readers to eliminate peculiarities as something that might indicate a disease or a growing problem. Though none of the other potatoes I have cut for planting looked unusual.

Planting potatoes in raised bedI set the potatoes 15″ apart, which gave me room to plant 16 potatoes in a 5’x5′ bed. This bed started out as a compost pile last year and grew favas through the winter. I amended it with my favorites from Happy Frog to deepen the soil level as much as anything else, since I anticipate soil fertility to be pretty good. Then I covered the seed potatoes with several inches of planting mix and watered the whole thing in. Depending on the weather, I hope to see at least some of the potatoes sprouting in the next week or two, though I understand it could take some of the varieties longer than that.

Map of Potato Varieties PlantedThe trick is, how do you keep track of which potatoes are which varieties when you are growing 16 plants of nine different varieties in one raised bed? To start with I got a stack of the really big plant markers from Common Ground so I can actually find them when I want to know who is who. I noted on the row marker how many plants of that variety are in the bed. For example, the ‘Guisi’ marker says (4) because the four plants closest to the marker should all be ‘Guisi’s’. I also drew myself a quick map, just in case something happens to the giant plant markers. Now I can refer back to this when the plants come up and remind myself that there should be two ‘Satinas’ and four ‘Guisi’s’ but only one of the ‘Skagit Lock’ and ‘Red Thumb’ plants.

Now, if I could grow a sour cream plant, I’d be all set!