I love growing potatoes! Outside of awaiting the first ripe tomato of the summer, the first potato harvest is one of my favorite times of the growing season. I love the anticipation, the little surprise that lingers, just under that hill of dirt, the deep sigh of relief when the first few plants are unearthed and there are actually edible potatoes. Potatoes just waiting to be tucked away in the fruit cellar, until a cold winter night, that right now seems so far away. For someone like me, growing potatoes is a test. Since I am not the most patient person, you could see how something that mostly grows below ground and is not supposed to see sunlight until the day it is picked might try what little patience I do possess. Potatoes, especially ones grown organically, are also quite finicky. Combine that, with our lack of experience and you can understand why we so anxiously await the first day of harvest.
So, to give us the best chance for success, we baby these plants of ours from the day they arrive in the mail until the day they grace our dinner table. We bought only organic, certified disease free, seed potatoes. On two very rainy days in late April, Kevin dug 20 trenches that were about 15 feet long by 1 foot deep. Then Dad, Kevin, PJ and I spent a few hours, in the chilly rain, carefully placing all of our, previously cut and cured, potatoes in the ground and covering them with about a 6 inches of dirt. When they reached about a foot tall we hilled them, to keep the sun out, using the remaining dirt from digging the original trenches. This year we fought flea beetles on all our nightshade plants, of which potatoes are one, using Neem oil extract sprayed on them at dusk, as often as needed. This allowed the plants to get well established and reach a size capable of enduring a little munching on from these tiny pests.
Next we broadcasted buckwheat seed in between each potato variety, having read that it supposedly deters Colorado Potato Beetles from attacking the plant foliage. We are still trying to decide if we should harvest the buckwheat to use as flour or plow it under as green manure, which would replenish the soils nutrients before next spring. As a side note, we did not see a single potato beetle amongst our garden pests this year. Whether that is owed to our preemptive strike, we may never know. It does mean that we will be doing it again next year.
So knowing myself, and my inability to wait an entire growing season to eat the first potato, I had enough foresight to purchase some early varieties and we spent a few afternoons, before the much needed rain blew in, participating in the treasure hunt that is potato harvesting. I stood by, hovering nervously, as Kevin sunk the pitch fork into the dirt around the first plant and, lo and behold, he dug up 4-big-beautiful Yukon Gold potatoes. We were off!
He and I proceeded to dig in the earth together, talking about what chores needed to get done before dark, which sheep was acting friendlier today than yesterday, if Lilac looked a little wider and hopefully pregnant and if maybe, just maybe, Shaelyn was going to finally pop that newest tooth of hers and let us sleep more than two hours, at a time, that night. As we knelt, talking of the usual and mundane, we would stop to admire when a plant surprised us with 6 large potatoes or voice our disappointment when one, that had looked particular large from above the hill, only gave us a single tuber.
Working our way up and down the hills, I was suddenly struck with overwhelming gratitude for what we had here in this new place. For as hard as the day-to-day work is, especially since we are still setting up and catching up, we are much luckier than those who came before us. When they planted their spring potatoes, tended them, cared for them, fought off pests and then dug them up to place in the winter larder, they had no choice but to succeed or they would go hungry. While I realize, that the truth is, if this fails, we can go to the store or the farmers market and buy what we need, it still feels fulfilling and important to spend an afternoon in the garden, with the man I love, digging our food up out of the ground, talking about the little (big?) things in life and providing for ourselves. Who knew a potato could cause all that?
What delicious potato recipes do you have? Please share because we are going to need them…we have 6 more varieties to harvest before winter!