I spent 3 hours digging potatoes and two hours washing them this past weekend. So far, my experiment of planting the wildly exuberant potato volunteers in my basement has proven to be a success — especially since we now have fresh tubers to eat when I hadn’t planned on growing any this year at all. If you need a reminder about the beginning of this experiment, you can read this blog from April and this one from June.
I could have let some of this year’s crop sit longer in the ground, but our weather has been so hot and humid I figured they would probably last longer in my basement. Rather than continuing to tempt fate with them in the ground, I took advantage of a respite in the weather and dug away. The photo above is actually from two different harvests. I collected the Yukons a couple of weeks ago. There may still be a few of each of these varieties in the ground, but I won’t know until I dig the other two varieties still growing.
As I’ve said in previous posts, I adore the Christmas morning pleasure of digging my taters. I never know what I’ll find until I play in the soil. Finding each and every potato feels like discovering a gold nugget. Taken all together, the cumulative collection is truly a treasure that keeps filling our bellies and triggering my creative mind in the kitchen.
The above photo shows the stages of waning potato plants. On the left, the vines are no longer discernible. In the center, only the green vines remain. To the right, the plants with leaves are still growing above the ground and producing tubers below. My weekend dig included the rows in the ready-to-dig area and some of the close-enough area.
Because I love the surprise of the potato harvest so much, I hadn’t checked my records to see which variety I would be digging. I knew it would be either Strawberry paw or Gold rush. I’m thrilled to have gotten nearly a bushel basket full of the Strawberry paws (see top photo).
Digging taters is fairly easy but can be tough on the body since you’re either bending from a stool or digging on all fours. I don’t use tools because every time I do I end up skewering potatoes beyond use. I don’t like losing even one gold nugget. Also, due to the layering used when growing potatoes, the digging is very easy.
Looking at the photo directly below, you can see just how easily the taters are revealed. Simply lifting off the straw shows some of them at the surface, and brushing off the top layer of soil reveals even more. Also pictured here is how the potatoes form on the plant. Coming off the main stalk, below the surface of the ground, are root tendrils that sprout the tubers. If the leaves above the ground grow long enough to keep the plant healthy and vibrant, the tubers continue to plump and fill out.
Pests, disease, and unfriendly weather are three things that can consort to keep you from decent production. The plant as captured in the photo below (bottom left) shows that the tubers barely had enough time to begin, much less mature.
Because of my experiment this year, I also have a couple of mysteries to solve along with some fascinating science to study. In the past, I’ve come across decaying and composting bits of tater that I assumed were remnants of the seed potatoes. While that may be what is happening, this year produced some oddities. Mixed in with both the Yukon Golds and Strawberry Paw potatoes were a few mutants that obviously didn’t belong. I’m wondering if they might have been throwbacks to whatever potatoes they were originally bred from since they were so obviously not the kind they were among. They aren’t edible and seem to rot very quickly, as seen in the photo below.
I also came across a potato in the Strawberry Paws that seems to be a cross between that breed and the Yukon Golds. Here’s the mystery on that: These types of potato do not flower and therefore cannot crossbreed. This begs the question, is this simply a tater that got its coloring wrong, or is it also a throwback to a former parent plant?
The flower pictured is from my TPS (True Potato Seed) Thunder Row potatoes. I grew these last year from seeds (not seed potatoes) that are even smaller in size than basil seeds. I harvested a lovely amount from the one plant that made it through the season. That plant never produced any flowers.
When the leftover Thunder Row potatoes sprouted alongside the others, I decided to plant those as well. These plants did flower. Unfortunately, the weather and bugs conspired to prevent any fruits from forming, so I won’t have seeds to start the cycle over again.
What a fun and exciting experiment this has been! Not only do we have a surprise harvest to feast on for months to come, but I also have puzzles to solve about potato genetics — and these taters will undoubtedly add to the recipes in my cookbook. Stay tuned!
Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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