Planning for potatoes

Towards the end of this month my garden thoughts turn to the potato patch. Potatoes have to be one of the most satisfying vegetable crops for me … in the growing, the harvest, and in the kitchen.

Ounce for ounce, potatoes have just about the greatest nutritional package one can imagine.

They are one of the most economical and nutritious foods we can grow. Some say the complex carbohydrates of potatoes make them ‘brain-food.’

And they’re easy to grow. All you need is a sunny area and good drainage. Potatoes are planted not from seed but from ‘seed’ potatoes.

Later this month you will start to see them in local nurseries and feed stores. These seed potatoes are cut up into smaller pieces with dominant ‘eyes.’ (This is the bump – the node – where the new potato sprouts.)

Next step: dust the fresh cuts with sulfur powder and place them in a airy, dark place to encourage the ‘eyes’ to sprout.

I like planting the potato pieces around Valentine’s Day when the ground temperature gets close to 50 degrees. Plant the tubers in a row 12 inches apart. Cover them with 3 to 4 inches of soil.

This soil should be rich in compost and well fertilized with a balanced organic blend. Potatoes like the soil to be loose. (Composted leaves and straw work well.)

The plants will emerge in 2 to 3 weeks depending on the weather. At this time add some additional soil around the base of each plant. When the plants get 6 to 8 inches tall, I like to cover them half way up.

Keep them moist during the growing season but not overly wet, or they will rot.

Towards the end of May, potato plants will begin to wilt and the harvest can commence. Now the real fun begins.

If you sift through the soil around each plant, you will find little

(and large) potatoes everywhere.

Potatoes can keep for months if placed in a cool, well-ventilated location. I kept them in the laundry room on racks till November, without having to purchase them once in the grocery.

Red potatoes seem to do better in central Texas, but folks also have had great success with whites. The top red varieties are Red Lasoda and Red Pontiac. I can’t tell the difference.

The most popular white potato is Kennebec.

This year, I’m looking forward to Yukon Gold. This buttery, golden variety is so-o-o yummy for mashed potatoes.

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