One thing I’ve learned over the years is that Mother Nature and her plant kingdom are hearty, pervasive, and persistent. While I wasn’t planning on planting potatoes this year, it turns out that last year’s crop (or those not consumed over the winter) made a different decision for me.
I love having our own homegrown potatoes, especially for ThanksGaia (the holiday we celebrate the third Thursday in November). I tend to grow potatoes in enough abundance so they last at least until then. During the past growing season, we had a bumper crop that nourished us through the whole winter. The stragglers felt the strong calls of spring though and started sprouting. This past week they really took off (see center photo “I” at the bottom of the page).
In the above photo are partial harvests of our 'Strawberry Paw' (A), 'Yukon Gold' (B), and 'Gold Rush' (C) potatoes from last year. I absolutely adore growing potatoes because they take so little effort for such a fun treasure to dig at the end of their season — and, they taste so amazing when they come from your own garden.
My biggest chore becomes beetle-picking through the summer, but the payout for keeping these beautiful taters clean is more than worth it.
Back to my science experiment: I had yet to decide what to plant where the corn was last year and knew that I wanted to amend that newer bed by adding more compost and soil.
It seemed to me an obvious area to discover what these goofy tater volunteers would produce. If nothing comes of it, I’m not out anything since I wanted to amend the bed anyway. If the potatoes decide to bless me with the usual treasure, I’ll have learned something and we’ll have some great meals ahead come fall. I find it pays to be flexible when gardening, there are less disappointments that way.
The first step (see photo D) was to remove the fabric from under last year’s straw mulch. You can see the white parts showing through in the photo.
The next shot (E) shows the bed with all the fabric removed and horizontal trenches being dug near the top of the photo. I laid the potatoes carefully in the trenches and draped the sturdier eye vines across the mounds in-between (see bottom set of photos, H) after having picked off the weaker vines.
Then I took some of that wonderful compost retrieved awhile back and crumbled it carefully around the eye tendrils, taking care not to tamp down the soil and damage the fragile vines. I proceeded to cover the trenches with a couple of inches of soil and barely covered the vines in the center. On top of this I layered several inches of straw (F and G). Side note: All the lovely creatures living in the compost were still alive and well after a few months in the basement. The pill bugs numbers remained high so hopefully they’ll do the work of removing heavy metals from the bed, should there be any, and leave the potato vines alone.
Normally, trenching and mulching is the same routine I follow when planting my potatoes, minus the vine treatment obviously. The eyes usually have the smallest of buds started when I’m using seed potatoes. That’s because the “seeds” come to me from storage places that have temperature control and air circulation to impede early sprouting. I won’t likely ever have my own area for such things and my Dutch heritage kept me from simply tossing all these volunteers, hence the botany adventure.
I was surprised to see what appear to be baby potatoes forming on a couple of the larger potatoes (photo K). As I mentioned, I have no idea what will come from this experiment. At the very least, I have added compost and straw and my friends the woodlice have cleaned up a small patch of planet. If any plants poke through, I will continue adding layers as the season continues and the bed will become even richer.
Stay tuned for more news as this curious undertaking continues. I’ll keep you updated on my progress, successful or not. I’ll be interested in seeing which parts of Mother Nature’s hearty, pervasive, and persistent personality win out.
Read Part 2 of this series: 'Taters Gone Wild: Troubleshooting Cold Weather and Potato Pests.
Read Part 3 of this series: 'Taters Gone Wild: 2 Bushels and Counting.
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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