18 Kids and 42 Kinds of Potatoes – Now That’s an Earth Day Project!


Yukon Gold Potato Grow Over-winter by Traditional MethodsPerhaps you’ve already noticed we can get a little intense here at Dirt to Dinner.  Our Great Potato Grow Out for Spring 2011 is  no exception. What started out as a personal interest in growing a few of the potato varieties Carol Deppe mentions in The Resilient Gardener, has turned into a full blown research project searching for the ultimate urban gardening potato varieties staffed by no less than 18 (and still counting) smart and curious kids. And the project now involves testing at least 42 different potato varieties.

The ‘Yukon Gold’ potato shown on the left is one that was grown by traditional methods (in the ground, hilling, etc.)  except that it was grown over the winter. At harvest in April, it measured roughly 16″ from seed potato to leaf top. Because I tried to grow it through the coldest and darkest time of the year, it made an unimpressive number and weight of potato tubers. This particular plant set stolons, those little ‘umbilical cords’ that potatoes grow on the end of, along the first six inches of stem that grew up from the seed potato. But, identifying a potato variety that produces lots of potatoes vertically on a tall stem could allow thousands of urban gardeners to reduce their environmental footprint and produce more of their own food at home in small spaces.

Low Yield of Yukon Gold potatoesSo, how do you find that potato? It’s gotta taste good. It’s gotta grow well in a variety of conditions. It’s gotta be tall. And it’s gotta set stolons for a lot farther up it’s stem that the six inches that ‘Yukon Gold’ used.

That’s where Tom Wagner and New World Seeds and Tubers come in. Tom is the go-to guy if you want to try your hand at the potato varieties Carol Deppe mentions in her fascinating book. If you’re feeling adventurous, Tom will even send you an 8-pound sampler box, with anywhere from 5 to 20 different varieties of potatoes represented in those 8 pounds. That’s plenty to start your search. We even asked him to start us out with some of his tall-vined favorites.

But, if it’s really your lucky day, the generous folks at New World Seeds and Tubers will accidentally fill your order twice and then tell you to go ahead and keep the extra package! That kind of bounty begs to be shared, so I took the search to the Dirt to Dinner kids. So far 18 students have volunteered for the research project to grow out Tom’s rare and experimental potato varieties searching for the best potential vertical growers.

There’s now even a site on WePay where you can support the kids research in the next stage of the project to propagate and share with urban gardeners around the world. The Great Potato Grow Out team will be recording potato growth rates, height of stolon set, amount of potatoes produced, weight of potatoes produced and, of course, how their potatoes taste.

Got a favorite potato recipe? I’ll be collecting them to try during our Taste Test in 100 days or so!

4/23 Update –

Our WePay Earth Day project “Potatoes Grow Up” was the winner of the Earth Day donation. Thanks for your support and generosity!