It’s almost as much of a St. Pat's week tradition for me to go into MFA and see what kind of seed potatoes are available as it is to plant them.
The tradition of planting potatoes, and peas, around St. Patrick's Day is Irish. It was brought to US during the Great Famine of 1845-1849. when potatoes, by then an Irish diet staple, became diseased. At the height of the famine, around 1845, historians estimate at least one million Irish died of starvation.
Potatoes originated in Peru and spread through Europe courtesy of Spanish adventurers, who reportedly took two potatoes with them after "discovering" the Incas.
When we lived in Lima, Peru, I remember fresh markets with dozens of different-colored and sized potatoes, from white to purple. It still startles me when I only see only one or two kinds of potatoes at US grocery stores.
This year, there were three choices of seed potatoes, all displayed in large black round plastic tubs. DeVerne King suggested Pontiac was the best. "It will keep the longest, too."
Although I have had my share of potatoes sprouting in my refrigerator vegetable bin, they don't grow once planted - trust me, I tried. Apparently most grocery store potatoes have been treated to stop, or at least reduce, sprouting.
The best seed potatoes have a number of "eyes" sprouting so they can be cut in quarters with two "eyes," or starts, per potato piece. I tend to pick out seed potatoes that suggest a shape, although I don't know too many shapes that include half a dozen eyes.
Then, after cutting them, the trick to successfully growing potatoes is to first leave them to dry for a day or two so they build a protective cover over the cut side. This protects them from rotting once they are in the ground.
Planting potatoes is easy. I mix compost in a new spot of my garden where I didn't grow potatoes last year, making sure the soil is nicely deep and loose, and add a potato piece. Water.
When plants are about 6 inches tall, I hoe dirt up all around them, leaving just a couple of inches sticking out. Continue doing this about every two weeks.
After 3 months, I like to sneak a few tiny"new" potatoes, which are also available at local farmer's markets as potatoes about the size of marbles.
In late summer, when potato vines begin to turn yellow and dry up, I harvest the remaining potatoes to keep them from rotting in the ground.
Brush off as much dirt as you can, but don't wash them. Lay them in a single layer on a bed of straw or crumpled newspaper in a cool, dark place. They will keep for several weeks, or so I have heard - mine don't make it that long.
Page 2 of 2 - Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate at http://www.gardeningcharlotte.com.