Thursday, June 4, 2015

Potatoes


This will be my first year growing potatoes.  Whenever you grow something for the first time, it’s  always a learning experience, of course, but potatoes are especially so.  From purchasing the seed potatoes, to chitting, to hilling (if you plan to do that)…the mechanics of growing potatoes bear little resemblance to other types of veg.

Potato Bed - 3 weeks

The first task was to purchase the seed potatoes.  I knew that some local stores sold seed potatoes in the spring, but wasn’t confident about the selection - I had vague recollections of seeing bags marked “red potatoes” and “white potatoes”.  I figured that a safer bet would be to purchase the potatoes from an online source that has a large selection of named varieties to choose from.  And with cross border restrictions, that source had to be within Canada.  After a bit of searching, I found a source in Alberta:  Eagle Creek Farms.  They had quite the assortment of potatoes & also gave a good description of each variety.

One of the things that drew me to this company was that they offered “foursums” for each potato variety (in addition to larger 1kg & 5kg sizes).  A foursum quite literally means that you get 4 potatoes and the price was a reasonable $2.95 per foursum.  I would prefer to try a few different varieties rather than plant up the bed with a single variety, especially on my maiden voyage into growing potatoes.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with regards to the potatoes themselves & I knew that if they were large I could cut them up into 1-2” pieces, so long as each had at least a couple of eyes.  After going over their offerings, I decided to try 4 different varieties:

Roko (red with white flesh, mid-season, boiling, excellent over winter storage)


Roko
Photo Source:  Eagle Creek
 

Linzer Delikatess Fingerling (yellow skin & flesh, early season, boiling)

Linzer Delikatess Fingerling
Photo Source:  Eagle Creek
 


Bintje (yellow skin & flesh, late season, all purpose, good storage)

Bintje
Photo Source:  Eagle Creek
 

Caribe (red with white flesh, early season, baking, excellent storage)

Caribe
Photo Source:  Eagle Creek
 
It was with great anticipation that I received my seed potatoes near the end of April. The box looked quite small when it arrived & when I opened it up, there were 4 brown paper bags inside, each stapled closed.

Imagine my surprise when I opened one of the bags and found potatoes that were smaller than an average sized egg.

Linzer Delikatess seed potato
 
Ok, I don’t know ANYTHING about seed potatoes, so perhaps this is quite normal for “specialty” type potatoes - what counts is the harvest, not the size of the seed.  Nonetheless I couldn’t believe how tiny they were.

I received 16 potatoes in total (4 each of 4 varieties) and their total combined weight was 680 grams (1.5 lbs)…that’s an average of 42 grams each (less than 1.5 ounces).

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes
 
I was planning on planting up an 8’ long bed with 3 staggered rows of potatoes.  The rows would be spaced 12” apart and the potatoes themselves would be 8” apart, which is on the low end when it comes to spacing recommendations.  Spacing is one thing I have to work on in the future and I know that closer spacing usually means smaller potatoes, but I thought this was a good start and I could make adjustments from there.

For my desired spacing, I would need 36 seed potatoes.  Cutting up the tiny seed potatoes was definitely NOT an option, so I was 20 seed potatoes short.

Good thing I had been to Canadian Tire for a completely unrelated purchase only a couple of weeks before.  I happened to see their seed potato display and took a couple of photos of the varieties they had for future reference.  As it turns out, I needed that reference much sooner than I thought I would.

Their selection was surprisingly good:  Red Pontiac, Norland, Viking, Yukon Gold, Russet Burank, Superior, Kennebec.  All were $4.99 except Kennebec & Viking which were a bit more expensive at $6.99.  Each bag weighed a hefty 2kg (4.4 lbs).  Definitely good value for money.  Mind you, these are not specialty varieties, but who’s to say that those would be better.  Yukon Gold, especially, is one of those potatoes that everyone seems to love, both in the garden and kitchen.

Canadian Tire Display
 
I went back to Canadian Tire and purchased 2 bags of potatoes – one each of Viking & Yukon Gold.  This was a few weeks after the above photo was taken and the potatoes inside the bags were a little worse for wear after sitting around in a bright, warm environment all that time.


Viking (red skin with white flesh, mid-season, boiling or baking)

Viking Seed Potatoes


Yukon Gold (yellow skin & flesh, mid-season, all purpose, good storage)
Does this one even need a description?

Yukon Gold Seed Potatoes

Some of the eyes on both varieties were over 6" long!  On the positive side, they all seemed rather sturdy.  I decided to remove only the super long ones - anything over about 3" - and leave the others.  As for the Eagle Creek Potatoes, they had tiny eyes and I decided to keep things simple and bury them as is, without chitting.  Also, some of the Yukon Gold & Viking were fairly large, definitely large enough to cut into 2 or 3 pieces.  But since I had so many, many more than I actually needed, I  didn't cut them up, again for the sake of simplicity.

I planted out the potatoes in one of the new beds on May 12, which is approximately 3 weeks later than my schedule specified.  I created a shallow trench for each row and spaced out the potatoes.  Then I planted each one a few inches deep using a trowel & covered them with only an inch or so of soil.  I tried to alternate the reds with the whites as this may make them easier to identify when harvested.

Seed Potatoes Laid Out

As the vines have grown, I have been adding soil.  All of the plants are doing really well now - the recent rains did them a world of good.  The plan is to add a few more inches of soil to the bed, so that it comes to within about 1" of the top (the bed was originally only filled about 2/3 of the way up with soil).  Then I will be mulching the bed with several inches of straw, although I have to figure out a way of keeping the straw on the bed, especially if it gets windy.

There is a size difference in the size of the Eagle Creek and Canadian Tire plants, but it's not as huge as I would have thought considering the size difference of the seed potatoes and sprouts.

Canadian Tire Plants on the left; Eagle Creek on the Right
 
Good things come in small packages, so you never know…those teeny tiny potatoes may just surprise me come harvest time.

Till next time…

P.S.  Things on my end will be a bit quiet over the next few days as I’m going on a garden related adventure, which I will do a post about at some point next week.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

26 comments:

  1. Good luck on your potatoes! Those mail-order potatoes do seem a bit small, so good plan on getting some backups from Canadian Tire.

    Potatoes are fun. Last year, I grew a blue variety (along with others) that very much resembled the river rocks that fill my soil. When I went to dig up the potatoes, I spent HOURS hunting around for tubers and didn't find very many. I thought that the blue variety must not be a good yielder. In hindsight, I think I was just mistaking a great many potatoes for rocks and completely overlooked them. This spring, I didn't think I would have enough energy to dig up the potatoes after baby is born and being post-partum myself, so I didn't plant any potatoes. However, in that same bed as last year, I have about 50 potato plants that have sprung up and they must have come from tubers left in the ground from that blue variety.

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    1. Looks like you may have an unintended potato harvest this year after all! Digging up some surprise potatoes in the spring from last years potato bed seems to be par for the course if you grow your potatoes in the ground or in a bed. I definitely wouldn't mind that sort of surprise ;)

      Maybe you can get hubby to dig up some potatoes for dinner after they mature. Or you never know - you may have more energy than you think once the baby comes!

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  2. I'm sure you will have a splendid harvest--you've done your research and have plenty of different varieties.

    I knew nothing about potatoes that first year (decades ago) and thought ---like an onion (!!) -you'd get one big potato for everyone planted. Imagine my surprise (horror??) when I dug up the plant and saw at least a half dozen per plant. I was very popular that year in the neighborhood---free taters for everyone! I had planted roughly 200 eyes. Oh my!

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    1. That's hilarious! Things have definitely changed with the internet. When I planted that first little garden, there was no internet, so I relied on books - I look back at some of those old books from the 80's even now, and the lack of detailed info or even misinformation (based on what we now know) still surprises me.

      I hope my potatoes do well - but you know how it goes. There are probably 101 things that can go wrong (and some of them probably will) and who knows what new pests or diseases I'll be frantically looking up in a month!

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  3. How exciting growing potatoes for the first time. I anticipate the first potato harvest of the year, it's so special boiling those first spuds, perhaps with a bit of mint and then slathered in butter, yum yum, I can't wait. Potatoes are a bit like tomatoes, so many varieties to try so it makes it exciting each year choosing something different as well as growing the old favourites. The tubers do look very small sometimes but they still give a good yield so don't worry about that. Your Linzer Delikatess Fingerlings look a bit like Anya, my favourites, so I shall look forward to hearing what you think about those. I think it's great when you can buy in small quantities so that you can try a few different varieties, we have potato days here when they can be bought by the tuber rather than large bags but I've never been to one. I have found a garden centre which sells in the same way and they have a great selection too so I'm growing more varieties than I usually would this year. It's always exciting when you try growing something new so I'm looking forward to seeing how they do for you.

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    1. You know, I've never tasted a homegrown potato...sad but true. From everyone's descriptions, I have really been missing out!

      In the past, I generally grew quite a bit of each veg, but usually chose only a couple of varieties. Lately I have been adding more variety to my veg selections & it's so much fun (and delicious too!). Most varieties out there are never seen in stores, so if you want to try them, you have to grow them. We gardeners are so lucky in that respect - we get to experience taste delights that many people never do.

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  4. Finding a good source for seed potatoes is always hard. Now you know where to get them. Good luck. Oh and I'm obviously not planting potatoes anymore, but I really liked the way Laura did it.
    http://www.modernvictorygarden.com/apps/blog/show/13709713-planting-potatoes-and-harvest-monday
    I tried it the last year I grew potatoes and it worked well. Raised beds are hard since you can't really hill potatoes easily.

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    1. Thanks Daphne, and that's very true about the raised beds - this year is not so bad as I'm starting with only a partly filled bed. Next year will be much more difficult. I'll probably give Laura's method a try as she certainly did get a fantastic yield from it. At some point I'm also going to give her shelling pea trellis idea a go - I've been eying that contraption since I first saw it. She had so many good ideas - I was very sad when she ended her blog.

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  5. Some seed potatoes are quite small. I'm sure you will enjoy them,

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    1. I'm sure you are right - I can't wait to go digging in a couple of months.

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  6. We are lucky over here in that seed potatoes are easily sourced. All the Garden Centres stock them, though I have taken to buying mine at a "Potato Day", which is basically a fair or market, where many different varieties of potato are available for purchase, and are sold individually for a few pence per tuber. This means that you can experiment with lots of them without having to buy them in big quantities. You have done things by the book, so by rights you should get a good harvest. Incidentally, I often choose small tubers when I am buying them, and I definitely wouldn't want to cut any of them into pieces, because that can easily let diseases in.

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    1. A Potato Day sounds fabulous! I like the idea of actually seeing the potatoes and choosing the ones you want...the price is right too.

      I'm so glad that you don't see any glaring problems with how I've done things so far. Considering your success growing such lovely potatoes last year, I'm feeling much better about what my little seed potatoes will produce.

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  7. You can not beat home grown potatoes, freshly dug, cooked and on your plate with a knob of butter. You will love them and you will grow them again.. Enjoy! :o)

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    1. Thanks Julie - your words have made me all the more anxious to taste those first tubers!

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  8. Have fun with the potatoes. Planted them years ago in another garden. I don't have the room now in the raised beds so I just watch what others grow.

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    1. Thanks David - I hope that you get to grow them again at some point...perhaps in the community garden?

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  9. Those potatoes are sure looking good so far! I've gotten some of those smaller-than-expected mail order seed potatoes before! This year I had enough to go around. I've grown Bintje and Caribe before and they did well for me. And I love Yukon Gold. Like Mark I prefer not to cut my seed potatoes, but I think that's more laziness on my part than any really good reason. ;-)

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    1. Thanks Dave! Everyone seems to love Yukon Gold. I'm really looking forward to that one in particular to see how they compare to those from the grocery store - you don't often see a veg where a "common" grocery store variety is also one of the tastiest for growing at home.

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  10. Another adventure in the garden for you! I gave up on potatoes a few years ago after my efforts were more rewarding to the gophers than to me. I don't love potatoes enough to try again now that the gophers are denied entry to my garden beds. The farmer's market has some good potatoes for those rare occasions when I want some spuds.

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    1. Ugh...those nasty gophers! One lesson I'm learning is that there is no point in growing a veg if you are not going to eat it...it kind of seems obvious, but sometimes I lose track of that lesson when I'm looking at a beautiful seed packet or reading about a fabulous harvest on another blog. Our bed space is best saved for all the lovely veg that we want to see on our plates!

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  11. I envy you with your upcoming first taste of homegrown potatoes. To me, they are one of several veggies that really taste better grown at home (those and tomatoes!). I grow lots of plants so I don't feel bad digging up entire plants just for a few baby potatoes early in the season (amazing with a generous drizzle of truffle oil!). I've always found them easy to grow personally. Hope it works out well for you, can't wait to hear about your first meal!

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    1. What's funny is that I never would have thought that there would be much difference between grocery potatoes and those you grow yourself. I guess the lowly potato doesn't often get the same fanfare as a ripe tomato or strawberry.

      I hope that I find them as easy to grow as you do. Right now things look good, but I'm already wondering what new disease or unknown bug will pop up during the season. So I won't count my potatoes until I harvest them...so to speak ;)

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  12. Your potatoes are looking really good Margaret. I've been trying a new method too, earthing up once and then mulching with grass clippings as I'm growing in small beds with not much spare soil. I might have to use some of my compost to cover some though If there's not enough clippings for them all. I'm with Mark, it's agood thing you didn't cut any up, it opens up a surface for disease to get in. And with sue too, sometimes the seed potatoes are small depending on the variety. I'd like a nice range like you've got, I haven't found an organic source where you can just get a few of each. But I grow a couple of tasty varieties so that's fine - an early variety for earlier cropping and a late variety that stores better.

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    1. I just finished filling up the bed with more soil today (all the way to the top!) & want to top it with straw but am still undecided as to how I will be keeping it in place. I'm thinking maybe netting as I have some with fairly wide holes that the plants should be ok coming up through. Next year, I will probably try the double dig method that Daphne suggested in her comment above as I won't have the luxury of having a partly filled new bed like this year.

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  13. Looks good. We planted ours about the same time....and nothings up yet. Eeek

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  14. Oh boy...a month and still no vines doesn't sound very promising. But you had said you were very dry, so maybe they are just waiting until they get some good moisture. I noticed a huge jump in the plants when we finally got rain this month. Fingers crossed that you'll see some green in the potato bed very soon!

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