Today was one of the best gardening days of the year. Why, you ask? Well, because the potatoes were ready to harvest! I love this culinary treasure hunt, searching for those delightful spuds hiding deep in the soil, clinging to the long roots of the seed potatoes that I planted last fall. As soon as I walked past the potato bed with my coffee this morning, I knew it wouldn’t be a day for lounging around in my pajamas. The potato plants that looked lush and healthy last weekend looked forlorn. Poor things. They were hanging over the sides of their raised bed. They were done, over, spent of their last drop of energy—kind of like me on Friday night after a rough week at the office.
I pulled on my trusty gloves, and pulled the first plant up. Then I began carefully moving the soil aside, oh so gently. And voila! Gorgeous spuds. The Red Bliss potatoes are vivid in color and perfect in size. The Yukon Golds are simply glowing! And I was glowing with pleasure at my growing basket of bounty. I worked my way around my 4 X 8 raised bed, digging carefully by hand. The fresh skins of the tubers are very delicate, and damaging them can reduce the shelf life of the potatoes. I began thinking of slicing through the new potatoes and listening to them snap at the touch of my knife. How will I prepare them for dinner? Roasted with olive oil and sea salt? Smashed and dressed in melting butter with fresh herbs? Potato curry? Potato salad? What would you do?
After I dug through the bed by hand, my husband followed with a pitch fork, digging deep down into the bed to lift up any potatoes I had missed. We harvested about 40 pounds of potatoes from that one bed—more than enough to feed our family for quite some time. I will let them cure for a few days before I gently wipe off the excess dirt and store them in paper sacks in a cool dry place.
Growing and harvesting potatoes is easy and fun. Preparing the soil is critical for growing healthy potato plants. I amend our soil with rich, aged compost that we nurture right here in our garden. I add organic fertilizer as well. Here in the deep south, we plant seed potatoes in the fall, tucking them about 6-8 inches deep in the soil. We water them thoroughly, and then wait patiently. It won’t be long before the leafy green tops of the potato plants peek through the soil. We then top off the bed with a thick layer of compost or straw. This encourages the growth of more potatoes and also protects them from exposure to the sun, which can cause an excess of solanine. Have you ever seen a potato with green spots on it? That is a sign that a buildup of solanine is present, and it is toxic to humans, so don’t eat the green parts! Once you have planted the potatoes and mulched them, there is little else to do until harvest time other than watering every week or so. I occasionally drench them with an organic compost tea, such as Authentic Haven Brand Manure Tea (famously known as Moo Poo Tea), which is produced on my friend, Annie Haven’s organic ranch. It perks the plants up, and I believe it helps to increase my yields in the garden. Most importantly, it doesn’t upset the natural balance of my soil.
If you have never grown potatoes, I encourage you to give it a try! It takes a little patience to wait for the harvest, but the day you dig them up is well worth the wait!