Thursday, April 7, 2016

Potatoes - The Reveal and Some Surprises


Homegrown potatoes were new to the garden last year and yum…what an eye-opener!

I grew 6 different varieties of potatoes – Yukon Gold, Caribe, Roko, Linzer Delikatess, Viking and Bintze.  Other than the Yukon Gold, I had never tasted any of the others.  Different types of potato are amenable to different cooking methods and I kept a cheat sheet in the kitchen so that I could keep all of that straight.  If I needed a baking potato, I reached for a Caribe or Viking, but if I wanted a potato that would stand up amazingly well in the slow cooker (even in 8-9 hour stews!), I would grab some Rokos.

Viking (left) & Yukon Gold (right)
 
I was not only new to growing but also storing potatoes.  Everyone's storage area is different when it comes to the two key variables that impact on how long root vegetables like potatoes will store:  temperature and humidity.  This being the case, I decided to give two different methods a try to see how they did in my particular situation.  First the proper method - layering the potatoes, not touching, in boxes filled with shredded paper.  Then the lazy method – plonking them into open cardboard boxes…done.

I also set aside a bunch of seed potatoes from each variety.  These I boxed up in shredded paper to give them the best chance of getting through until planting time in the spring.

November 2015 - Seed potatoes before they were topped with
more shredded paper & placed in the cold cellar

You can see that there is a greenish cast on the seed potatoes.  Before I boxed them up, I placed all of the seed potato under lights to green up a bit.  I had read that this would induce dormancy but for the life of me cannot find the link where I read this now.

With only a few weeks left until my outdoor planting date, I finally took a look at my seed potatoes back in mid-March:

The reveal on March 17

Before I even pulled back the paper, I knew I was not going to be pleased.  It's a bit hard to see in the photo, but there were several pale sprouts sticking out of the shredded paper - not a good sign.  This is what I found:

March 17 - Viking (left) and Bintz (right)

March 17 - Roko (left) and Linzer (right)

Yukon Gold (bottom and Caribe (top)

This was sort of a surprise and sort of not.  Cold cellar temperatures are directly impacted by how warm or cold it is outside.  We had very warm temperatures this past winter (relatively speaking) and I had seen other bloggers indicate that their potato harvest didn’t last anywhere near as long as a result.

So not great, but not horrible either.  Last year, I purchased seed potato rather late in the season from a local store & planted out spuds that looked very similar:

Viking seed potatoes:
A bit shriveled & severely sprouting but
still gave me a great harvest last year
 
I decided to remove the sprouts that were longer than an inch or so (which is what I did last year) & place all of the seed potatoes under the lights in the basement where they continued chitting in a relatively cool environment until I could get them outside.  This is what they look like now:

April 6 - Viking (left) and Bintje (right)
 
The plan was to get these into the ground by the 2nd week of April but the weather is not cooperating - we had another snow storm yesterday & temps are still too cool.  But the long range forecast indicates that I may be able to plant them by the 16th or 17th if I get some plastic down on the bed soon.

Now on to the eating potatoes.  Over the winter, I have been grabbing the open box potatoes for the kitchen while the box of properly packed, Yukon Gold potatoes has remained untouched.  It was time for the next reveal:

Yukon Gold - April 6

Not bad, but most had small, or bigger, sprouts (take a look at the one in the top right corner).

Now for surprise #1.  This is what the potatoes that I simply bunged into a box look like:

Roko - April 6

A bit of sprouting, but all of the sprouts are nice and stubby with not a single big one.  Unfortunately I didn't store any of the Yukon Golds in this way, which would have been a better comparison.  However, I did note that the Yukon Gold & Roko seed potatoes, which were stored in the same manner, had similar sprouting so I think my comparison is still valid.

And surprise #2.  These are potatoes from the farm I volunteer at that also received the “bung into a box and leave in the cold cellar” treatment:

Farm Potatoes - April 6

Itty bitty, barely there sprouts.  Amazing.  The only problem is that I’m not sure what varieties these are, although I’m fairly certain that I didn’t grow any of them (I recall several of them having unusual names I had never heard of).

So perhaps it’s a matter of variety.  There was, however, one other difference in how the farm potatoes were treated which may also have made the difference.  All of the potatoes from the farm were washed while the potatoes I stored from my garden were not – any excess soil was simply rubbed off.  My thought was that the less the potatoes were disturbed after harvesting, the better - doesn't look like this is the case.  This year, I’ll likely wash my harvest before placing it in storage.  At the very least, washing doesn't seem to hurt them at all and it certainly makes for less messy prep in the kitchen.

The Bottom Line:  All of the potatoes did ok, especially considering the warm winter we had - only one of the Linzers that I was saving for seed shriveled up and had to be tossed.  Had temperatures been normal, I'm confident that sprouting would have been minimal or non-existent all the way around.

So it looks like I will be able to (1) add potatoes to the list of homegrown veg that we will enjoy almost year round and (2) store my own seed potato.  Very exciting indeed!  Now if only the weather would warm up already so that I can get my poor seed potatoes into the ground...

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

30 comments:

  1. You didn't need to remove long sprouts - just lay them in the ground so they're completely covered and they'll form roots :)

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    1. The really long sprouts tend to be weak and they break easily when you plant them, which I think is the reason behind the general advice that they should be removed. I was also a bit worried about having so many roots and not being able to plant the potatoes right away...I'm staring at the weather channel website and practically willing the weather to get better so I can get them in the ground :)

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  2. I store my eating potatoes in my entry hall--the coldest spot in the house.
    Nothing says welcome like a stack of crates--LOL!
    But--I just use old-timey milk crates and don't put them with anything and they store pretty good. Starting in February , I remove whatever sprouts are sprouting and my eating potatoes are still in fine shape.

    Sorry you are getting snow as well. We've had well over a foot of snow since the 1st---snowed all days but yesterday. I am getting frustrated by the snow. Where was it in November and December, when I WANT it?!?!?!
    Have a great week, Margaret

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    1. Oh, your stack of crates comment made me burst out laughing...too funny!! And being the veggie/garden nerd that I am, I'd probably stand there checking them out with total admiration ;)

      Yes, the snow situation this year has been pretty dismal - I really hate having a gray December - Christmas just isn't the same. And I have a GREAT saying for you that I heard at the farm today (I'm volunteering again this year & it was my 1st day back today...such fun!) --> April flurries bring May worries :)

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    2. LOL! Ah, if only it were flurries.
      I'm ready to break out the Christmas tapes........and cry , too!
      Hubby keeps saying-it's got to go sooner or later, but every time I look at the forecast , they extend the gloomy grey days and snow a few more days. Hard to keep a sense of humor. Good thing I have GREAT bloggy friends to keep me smiling.
      Enjoy your fun times at the farm. Sounds fantastic

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  3. I've always heard that washed potatoes don't store as well as unwashed ones but as I don't store potatoes, it doesn't really matter to me. Definitely worth a trial though if you intend storing them, which I know you do, in future. I'm not sure now whether it was 2014 or 2015 when I kept my records, the earlier one I think, but the potatoes I planted in April did so much better than the ones I planted in March so don't be in any rush to get them in before the soil's warmed up. I'm hoping to start my first ones off some time this week.

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    1. I was really surprised that the washed potatoes did so well, especially considering HOW they get washed: They are placed in this big, sideways drum type contraption that spins around while water is sprayed into it. You would think the potatoes would get all bruised up, but they don't!

      And good advice on the planting, Jo - sometimes we are in such a rush to get planting we forget the lessons learned in years past. I purchased a soil thermometer last year and will definitely check to make sure that the soil is warm before planting them.

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  4. Well, Margaret, you are learning what works best in the best possible way - first-hand experience! I don't store potatoes over Winter, I grow mostly the Early varieties, which don't store well anyway. I'm convinced that short fat dark-coloured chits (shoots) are much better than long pale spindly ones.

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    1. I always think it's best to try things out for yourself - there are just so many variables that can impact on how something grows/tastes/stores. Chances are you will miss out if all you do is go based on others experiences.

      And I completely agree on the spindly shoots. I wish mine were a bit fatter, but it is what it is - I'll be happy if they make it to planting time in another week or so. Should be interesting to see what type of harvest I get this time round.

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  5. I also pulled off the very long sprouts I had last year and "re-chitted". They worked out just fine. Amazing how much they still sprout in a dark cold room! Amazing that those just thrown in together didn't rot or anything? I usually throw them in a box as well but with some newspaper between layers.

    Miserable April we are having. Had 6 inches of snow Wednesday but warmed up Thursday and it's already gone. But a nasty chill wind today.

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    1. I was so surprised at how well all of the potatoes kept - it's just like the garlic in that the ones I would purchase from the store seemed to rot after a couple of months, but the homegrown ones store incredibly well. Unbelievable, really.

      Yeah, I'm SO ready for a warm up - it's -6C right now! Supposed to get to the teens by Friday and stay that way...can't wait!

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  6. Snowed here today also. Hope you can get those potatoes planted soon. I gave up planting potatoes this year as took one bed out. Thinking now of having a cold frame near the back deck or on it as I hate to go way out to the garden in the winter to use it. Then I could use that bed for potatoes or for rotating! Good luck. Nancy

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    1. Easy access to the cold frame would be wonderful so that you could easily grab a few greens. A cold frame is still on my wish list; hopefully I'll make it happen by next year.

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  7. We just don't have a spot cold enough to store potatoes properly. Mine always sprout long before spring. We eat them anyway! Some good news here is that sweet potatoes do much better in our garden anyway, and they store for me much longer than regular potatoes. It looks like your experiments put you in better shape to handle this years crop!

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    1. Sweet potatoes store surpisingly well, don't they? I just kept those that I wanted to use for slips in the regular basement area and they were still hard as a rock when I put them in water this spring.

      I've written down the plan on how I will handle this years potato harvest so that I don't forget come fall. But first things first - gotta get those potatoes in the ground so that I actually have something to harvest...spring it sure taking it's sweet time to get here this year!

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  8. Potatoes are something I know very little about growing. I had thought to experiment with them this year but decided that I already had too much going on in the garden. Mark's container method is something I might try someday since I don't have enough space in my beds to devote to potatoes. I'll be keeping an eye on your potato experiences as well to see what else I can learn!

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    1. Oh, that's so nice Michelle - I'm usually the one learning from you! Mark does have great success with potatoes in containers as do other UK gardeners - it would definitely worth a try, esp. as it doesn't involve giving up any precious bed space.

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  9. Interesting results from different storage methods. Just goes to show you that there is no correct method and we should always experiment. I am very curious about your results. Did you by any chance cure your potatoes before packaging them up for storage? Were the potatoes that were layered in shredded paper and stored in boxes ventilated?

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    1. Experimenting is definitely key - and it's so much fun, which doesn't hurt either ;)

      I did cure the potatoes by laying them out for a couple of days, covered with newspaper, before packing them up. I can't recall now whether I did this in the basement or garage - my notes this past year left a LOT to be desired! As for ventilation, I didn't make holes in the boxes, but left the tops open - I figured this would provide adequate air flow as the boxes were relatively shallow - none was more than around 7" or 8" tall...perhaps next year I should be a bit more careful about that & make the holes anyway? I think I see another experiment in my future :)

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    2. Thanks for the additional info. Since the boxes were open, I don't think additional holes would make any difference, as the open boxes would allow for adequate airflow. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am tempted to experiment with different storage methods next year. :)

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  10. Wow Margaret, thanks for sharing the results of your experiments. We gardeners all have so much to learn from each other! I need to explore the world of potatoes more. There are so many amazing, unique varieties out there to try and compare for growth, taste/kitchen use/ and storage. I am starting simple this year with just one variety ordered. I want to get a year of confidence with that before I plunge in deeper. Here is hoping you have seen the last of your snow! Doesn't Mother Nature know its time for us gardeners to get out side?

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    1. You said it - today is another frigid day but I see the light (or should that be warmth!) at the end of the tunnel. Temps are supposed to climb to 13C+/55F by Friday with lows above freezing...and stay that way for the foreseeable future (which is what really counts!)

      I'm looking forward to hearing about your potato adventures this year Lexa! It's so much fun trying a new veg in the garden; I think that potatoes are particularly fun because their culture is so different from other veg and the treasure hunt at the end of the season is pretty awesome :)

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  11. Wow you guys have really had a long winter!
    Nice experiment with the potatoes. To store them I leave them out on the ground for a few hours to cure, flipping them over halftime if they're wet underneath, then just keep them in thick paper sacks in the brick shed in our front yard (north facing so keeps cool). Before putting them in their final sack I sort them out into ones which need using first (eg damaged or with a lot of scab) and number the sack so i know which one to use next.though having said that I've been reducing the number of potatoes I grow over the last few years so it's not as difficult to keep track of the bags.
    The coldest room in our house is the loo, which is downstairs by the front door - north side of the house, with no heating. It would make a brilliant larder but I can't convince jan to let me use it that way hehe (probably for the best!).

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    1. Yeah, we gardeners don't mind having our produce all over the house, but it's usually a different story for our significant others :) And winter is FINALLY ending for us - it was 25C today!

      Sorting before putting the potatoes away is a great idea - I kind of did that, but mainly with the seriously damaged ones. This year I plan to wash the potatoes before I store them so I'll be able to more easily see if there is damage other than the more obvious stabs from the digging fork.

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  12. The only potatoes I grow are sweet potatoes, which do well in our hot summers. I serve them at Thanksgiving. :o)

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    1. Yum to sweet potatoes! My efforts last year didn't result in many sweets nor were they that large, but I'm hoping to do a bit better this time round (don't we say that every season?)!)

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  13. I have to visit more often. Lots of good info. My husband needs to expand the veggies he grows.

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    1. Thanks Patsi! I think that blogs are one of the most useful sources of information when it comes to a lot of topics, including gardening. I have learned more from fellow bloggers than most books and "how to websites" where information is often presented without reference to everyday experience (and the problems that often arise). Can't beat real people talking about real experiences, both good and bad!

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  14. hello margaret,
    i grow potatoes in buckets. i grow belana, sieglinde and linda potatoes.
    your blog is beautiful.
    wish you a nice week,
    regina

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    1. Thanks Regina! I was considering planting a few extra seed potatoes in buckets but decided against it as I already have so much on my plate this year (and am generally not the greatest at keeping containers watered!). It's on my list for next year, though. Wishing you a wonderful week too!

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