Sunday, February 21, 2016

End of Season Review - Potatoes


Potatoes were the most "experimental" new veg I grew this past season as they're culture is so different from any other.

Yukon Gold & Roko Potatoes
 
It all starts with seed...seed potatoes, that is.  Luckily, we have a few sources in Canada that go beyond the ubiquitous "red and white" seed potatoes found in many local stores.  I wanted to try several varieties as different potatoes (much like tomatoes) have different characteristics that make them more suitable for one cooking method or another.

There is one grower in Alberta, Eagle Creek, that has a particularly big selection of seed potato.  I purchased 4 different varieties from them:  Roko, Linzer Delikatess, Bintje and Caribe.  When I received my order, I was pretty surprised at how tiny the seed potatoes were:

Most were smaller than an egg
& their average weight was 42 grams (1.5 oz) each
 
Once I realized I would need quite a few more potatoes to fill my bed, I headed to the local Canadian Tire where I had recently seen large bags of seed potatoes.  What surprised me when I first noticed them was not only that the bags were labeled with the actual variety (it's rather sad that this would be unexpected!), but also that they were selling 7 different varieties.

Canadian Tire Display
 
I took the above photo when I first saw the display, just so that I could have a reference in the future of what was being sold - I hadn't received my Eagle Creek order yet and was hopeful that it would be enough for this year thinking that I could cut up the potatoes if they were large enough.  Obviously, I needed that reference photo a lot sooner than I anticipated!

I didn't need more than one bag as they were quite large at 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs) each, but I decided to purchase 2 different varieties anyhow - Yukon Gold and Viking.  As they had been sitting around in the store for some time and then they had to hang out in my cold cellar even longer as I finished up the bed, many of the potatoes developed sprouts that were several inches long.

Sprouting Yukon Gold Potatoes
 
I decided to twist off any that were longer than about 3” and, since I had a LOT of these two varieties, I didn’t bother to cut up the larger potatoes but planted them whole.  Judging by the harvests, taking those long sprouts off didn’t have a negative impact.

Because of a delay in building the bed, the potatoes went into the ground 3 weeks late.  Well, that’s 3 weeks later than what was noted in my calendar – since I’ve not grown them before, this was an estimated date.  As with most new crops, it will likely take a year or two to figure out the best planting date for my area.

I harvested several test potatoes on Sep. 23 and then the rest were dug up on October 1st.





A few potatoes did sustain some critter damage - I’m thinking it may have been a vole - but thankfully the vast majority were perfect.

Critter damage
 
Most of the damaged potatoes had salvageable sections, so these were cut up and stored in jars of water in the refrigerator.  One thing about this method of storage – it works very well, but ONLY for short term storage.  Originally, I thought they would store for several weeks, but as it turns out, 2 weeks would be the maximum I would do.  By the end of the third week, the water and potatoes start to develop a musty smell – something I found out the hard way!

Great way to quickly deal with damaged potatoes
but only in the short term (2 week storage potential max)
 
My favourite variety, hands down, was the Linzer Delikatess…they were amazing simply boiled and then topped with a bit of butter & salt.

A bowlful of goodness - Linzer Delikatess
 
This is a case where I’ll continue to grow a crop, even if the yield is not that great – they are that good.  I also found Roko particularly impressive when used in slow cooker preparations – while other potatoes tend to fall apart, Roko kept its shape admirably well, even in dishes that cooked for 8 or 9 hours.

From the left:
Linzer Delikatess, Viking, Bintje, Roko, Yukon Gold, Caribe


Potato Interiors
 
The only variety I grew that I was familiar with was Yukon Gold, so I created a cheat sheet, which has come in very handy.  I keep it in the kitchen and it tells me the best variety to use depending on how I am preparing them.

As for storage, the potatoes have been kept in cardboard boxes in the cold cellar using 2 methods – some I packed with shredded paper while others were simply placed in a single layer in shallow boxes without a lid.  The difference in methods was more to do with running out of shredded paper and not having the time to pack them than anything else.

Considering our very mild weather up until the beginning of January, which resulted in 2-3 months of above normal temps in the cold cellar, I’m very happy with how well the potatoes have stored - not one has gone to waste yet.  Some, specifically those that are stored in open boxes, have started to sprout a bit, so I’ve been using those up first.  The ones that received the shredded paper treatment seem to be ok so far.

I also attempted to grow sweet potatoes this year.  I didn’t have any space in the beds so I used a large, metal bin.

Sweet potato plants on Sep. 13
 
I purchased a locally grown sweet potato at the grocery store and placed it in water on March 9.  The slips grew very slowly and they were still rather small when I transplanted them outside, which was probably in early June (as happened so often this past year, I forgot to note this down).

My harvest in October was not what you would call impressive – 748 grams (1.65 lbs) from 4 slips & the largest potato weighed in at 164 grams (5.8 oz).

Sweet Potato Harvest
 
I was nonetheless happy to get any tubers at all.  From the looks of the tiny plants (compared to Daphne’s for instance), I really thought I would end up with a bunch of pencil thick roots.


Overall Impressions and Plan for Next Year

Potatoes were another of those crops where the first bite was a revelation.  I had heard others extoll the virtues of homegrown potatoes, but found it hard to believe that they would taste that much different from those on the grocery shelves.  Well, I stand corrected!

The potatoes also seem to have stored much better than I anticipated and I’m thinking during a “normal” winter when our cold cellar gets down to temp in November, they’ll definitely do fine until the following spring.  Now whether I can make it so that we don’t have to purchase potatoes any more has yet to be seen.  That’s definitely something I’ll be working towards.

I will be growing all of the same varieties again this year.  I set aside seed potato from each variety last year and am hoping to use that as my stock.  I placed the “seed” in small boxes lined with shredded paper and left the tops partially open to promote some air circulation.  I haven’t examined my seed potatoes thoroughly yet, beyond a couple of random checks of a few that were near the top of the box.  It won’t be too much longer until I bring them out into the light to get the chitting process started.  Hopefully I’ll find nice, firm potatoes when I push back the shredded paper & not mush!

As for the sweet potatoes, I set some aside and placed them in a paper bag in the regular part of the basement.  So far so good – they are still hard as a rock.   I’m actually planning on giving them an earlier start this year - I'll be placing them in water within the next few days

I’ll not be using the metal bin this year as it was commandeered for the mint last fall.  But I still don’t have any bed space for them, so I’m going to try growing them in another container – a tomato grow bag.  I picked one up last year, specifically with sweet potatoes in mind.  I’ll have to be much more conscientious about watering as well – last year’s crop definitely suffered on that score.

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

22 comments:

  1. We always grow several varieties of potatoes. That way if one doesn't like the prevailing conditions one year some other one will. This year we will be trying some that are new to us too. We store our potatoes in cardboard boxes stacked in the garage.

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    1. That's my general feeling with most veg - variety is always a good thing, especially for the reason you stated. It would be nice if we could store some of our stuff in the garage, but even though it's insulated, it does freeze in there with the garage door being opened and closed all the time. I'm quite happy with how long the potatoes stored in their open box in the cold cellar - it's a good test to see if the added effort of packing them in shredded paper is worth it.

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  2. Potatoes are the one thing I like to grow a lot of---we use them almost daily throughout the winter. I'm down to my last milk crate --and I've kept up with checking them weekly and using sprouted ones right away.
    So glad for the info on the different varieties you've grown. Interesting to see what kind of potato is good for different types of dinners.
    I've not heard of the Linzer variety. I must start a search....
    Have a terrific week, Margaret

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    1. In the last few months, I think we have used more potatoes than we normally would because they are our own and so good!

      I quickly learned that I had to distinguish between the varieties when I was cooking. One time I took a couple of different ones and boiled them...when I went to check on them, one had completely disappeared! It took me a few seconds to realize that it had totally disintegrated in the water.

      Hope you are enjoying your break...it won't be too much longer now until we are in full on gardening mode!

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  3. Those Linzer potatoes are truly beautiful! And I would faint if I found 7 varieties of seed potatoes anywhere around here. I am lucky to find 4 in a garden store, and no one seems to stock any fingerling types.

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    1. I was pretty blown away by the selection too. Had I known they stocked that much, I may not even have ordered from Eagle Creek. Glad I did though - the Linzer potatoes were well worth it!

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  4. Fantastic! We get loads of potatoes and sweet potatoes from our organic food share. It's a local grower, so they're produce is fresh-picked, too. And I agree, fresh potatoes are the best. Have you ever tried making sweet potato fries? This recipe is very good: http://bit.ly/1VPHNoa. :)

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    1. Well, you were more enlightened then I was. I had never purchased potatoes from the market, so you can imagine my surprise when I tasted that first one!

      I've made sweet potato fries but there were a few tips in that recipe that I think would make them better (like spacing them out a bit more and a higher oven temp). Thanks for the link!

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  5. The first potato harvest of the year is one of the things I really look forward to, just a simple thing like the humble spud boiled and drizzled with a bit of butter has got to be one of the best tasting things ever.

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    1. Very true - all of the potatoes are wonderful, but those Linzer potatoes - boy, they were gobbled up in no time. I'm so looking forward to this years harvest.

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  6. We are lucky over here in the UK, because it is easy to get hold of lots of different varieties of potato. I generally grow six or seven different types each year. You probably know that I grow them in big pots, and this method seems to work well for me, and I get some very respectable yields. There are fewer things nicer than a home-grown potato, fresh from the soil!

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    1. Those potato days you have are just incredible. Browsing amongst the aisles would be such fun as would picking out which of the many varieties to bring home.

      I tossed around the idea of trying some potatoes in pots last year when I had so many left over from the Canadian Tire purchase, but realized that my time in the garden was stretched too thin already. Perhaps I'll give it a go this year.

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  7. It is so awesome that you got to try really great tasting potatoes! Wish others would believe that home grown and freshly picked taste much different from anything in the store. My favorite is German Butterball and Belgium Fingerlings.

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    1. There is such a difference isn't there? Once I get a bit more comfortable with technique, I'm sure I'll be trying many more varieties - I've made a note of your favourites so that I don't forget :)

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  8. You may wish to try your local health food store for other variety of potatoes. I grow potatoes in large containers with good results and my daughter did exceptionally well growing sweet potato in a large container.

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    1. I remember your daughter's haul of sweet potatoes - it was so impressive that I bookmarked it for later reference!

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  9. Your potato harvests look amazing. Don't you love hitting on a variety that surpasses all others in terms of flavor.

    I've never been able to get a single regular potato in Kentucky, although the above ground plants looked amazing. Our springs are way too wet and we can't get them in the ground early enough. I'm going to try growing them in containers this year.

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    1. Yup - LOVE it! The same thing happened with the kohlrabi - the first variety I grew (and first time I tasted it) it was meh...a bit too cabbagy for my taste. But then I tried Kolibri and WOW - our family is hooked!

      I hope that you are successful growing potatoes in containers - it seems to be the way to go in the UK & I've thought that I may even give it a go as I only have one bed for potatoes & we could certainly do with more of those Linzers!

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  10. Yep, potatoes homegrown are the BEST! I'm so glad they worked well for you. For the 2015 crop, I had enough of my own potatoes to use as seed but I did not have a great crop and have only a couple left now. Although I usually get the regular varieties available at Canadian Tire or TSC, those Linzer potatoes look wonderful and I might have to give them a try.

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    1. Had I realized how good homegrown potatoes were, I would have tried them long ago! The Linzers are well worth the effort of getting - I just hope that they survive until planting time in their little shredded paper nest.

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  11. I am not the best potato grower and I like to grow Yukon Gold. I just have about a 4x4 ft. for them but we enjoy what I do grow. I wonder if I could try a sweet potato in a pot this year! Nancy

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    1. I would say go for it Nancy! Daphne had wonderful luck doing that with a planter by her front entrance and I have a feeling you would be a much more conscientious waterer than I was.

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