In Praise Of The Potato

If I could grow only one food plant in my garden, one plant to ensure that my family would eat, even if I lost my job or the food trucks stopped running, that one plant would be the lowly potato.

Ball's Stainless Steel Stockpot/Canner is ideal for fat rendering. Boil bushels of potatoes fast! In stock at Lehmans.com or Lehman's in Kidron, Ohio.

Ball’s Stainless Steel Stockpot/Canner is ideal for fat rendering. Boil bushels of potatoes fast! In stock at Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

In terms of calories and nutrition, it’s hard to beat a spud. It’s such a versatile food: I can serve potatoes every night of the week and have them be completely different at each meal. I can fry, mash, scallop or boil them. I can add them to soup or knead them into bread. A side of potatoes often accompanies our breakfast as hash browns and our lunch as thick, homemade chips.

Potatoes serve as the base for a number of soups and chowders, stretching expensive meat into a filling meal that is easy on the pocketbook. Potatoes go with meat and cheese and a multitude of seasonings.

The other thing about potatoes is the ease with which they can be stored. In our climate, they last well into spring in the root cellar. I have also successfully canned and dehydrated them. If I couldn’t grow potatoes, I would certainly look for a farmer who would sell them to me in bulk. Barring that, check out your supermarket or local organic store. With a local vendor, you should be able to make a deal for a bulk purchase.

I have decided to exercise what is for me rather amazing restraint and keep myself to a mere forty pounds of seed this year. I’m also going with tried and true varieties, no matter that those fancy purple spuds call to me. My final order, with 10 pounds of each variety is this:

Rose Finn Fingerlings: These are a waxy potato that holds it shape really well when boiled. Some of these can get a little knobby and funny looking, but when fried with or baked with rosemary and garlic, it tastes sublime.

Sangre: This is an early red with pure white flesh. I need a good early to fill in that gap between the end of my storage potatoes and the big fall harvest. These are pretty good keeps too, and they are resistant to hollow heart, which can be a problem around here.

Golden Rush Russet: This also resists hollow heart and is a good, all-purpose russet, something I didn’t grow last year and really missed. My final potato choice is Keuka Gold. It similar to Yukon Gold but has fewer problems with late blight.

Growing Potatoes on A Small Scale
I grew some potatoes in a six-gallon bucket last year. They didn’t do particularly well. The yield was small and the size of the potato a disappointment, but it did prove that it can be done. A person with a balcony or porch could certainly grow enough potatoes in a few discarded bins to make a meal or two a week form the harvest. A full-size barrel would have worked better and I plan to try this year if I can

Our wooden kegs are lined with paraffin to be water tight. Great for container plantings. Click for more info.

Our wooden kegs are lined with paraffin to be watertight. Great for container plantings. Click for more info.

find a free barrel. Although we have lots of land to cultivate, I am very interested in how families can meet some of their own food needs in small spaces.

Grow With Organics
If you can’t find any seed potatoes, buy a bag of organic potatoes and let them set in a warm spot until the eyes start to sprout. Cut them in two pieces, making sure you have at least one eye in each piece and let them set for a day or three until the cut end scabs over. They’ll be ready to plant then.

Your spuds will need some space that gets good light and drainage. You can go with the conventional method of digging a trench in your garden, and dropping the cut pieces in about every two feet. When the plant produces greens 9-12 inches tall, cover the greens with soil, leaving only a few inches exposed. Do this three times, and then let the plants go.

Mrs. Meyer's dish soap is biodegradable! Check it out at Lehman's in Kidron or at www.lehmans.com.

Mrs. Meyer’s dish soap is biodegradable! Check it out at Lehman’s in Kidron or at www.lehmans.com.

Check them every day for bugs. We don’t spray. Instead, we just walk through the patch pulling off the bugs and any leaves with egg clusters underneath and dropping them into a jar. (We feed the bugs and leaves to the chickens.) We have been known to spray the foliage with a mixture of organic dish soap and water. This does a pretty good job on bugs too.

Perfect for soil prep to potato harvests--get this steel broadfork at Lehman's in Kidron, Ohio, or Lehmans.com now.

Perfect for soil prep to potato harvests–get this steel broadfork at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio, or Lehmans.com now.

After the foliage dies back in the late summer to early fall, you can harvest your potatoes. It’s the most fun homesteading chore you can do. If you’ve ever had the urge to dig for buried treasure than you have an idea just what it feels like to stick a broadfork into soil and unearth real treasure, your very own food, a gift of sun and soil.

Kathy Harrison

About Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison is the author of Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson for both foster parenting and family preparedness and has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and National Public Radio. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.