Potatoes etc., Revisited

Yesterday we planted potatoes! We dug trenches, then spaced our little chunks of seed potato (with their raw edges nicely calloused to keep out the nasties) down the rows, sprouts pointing to the sky. We filled the trenches and watered them in… so soon we should see little plants starting to come up! It was the first in-ground planting of the season, which was exciting.

One of our members came to see everything and help out, which was very fun and leads us to our next point. We want you to be involved in the actual process of producing your produce as much as you want. If that’s not at all, that’s totally fine with us. But one of the really great things about belonging to a CSA is that you have the opportunity, if you so desire, to see how your food got that way, and in fact to help it get that way if you want. Even if you never want to touch a speck of soil or a single leaf, we really encourage you to come out and see what’s going on, how we do things, what the garden looks like at any given time… etc. And if you feel like getting your hands dirty, you’re welcome to that, as well.

To that end, we’ll be posting advance notice of when we’re doing different things in the greenhouse or garden, so if something sounds interesting to you, you can come over and help. One of the side-effects of moon planting is that we’ve planned most everything we’re doing down to the day, which makes it easy for us to schedule time with you if you want to try your green thumb at it. And if you have a specific day in mind that you want to come over, to help out or just to visit and look around, give a call or an email and we’ll let you know what we’ve got going on that day.

Again, please don’t feel obligated by any means. We’re offering an opportunity, not asking a favor. But if you’re interested, call and come on over. Bring your kids, your grandma, your co-worker,  your brother, or your dog, if you like (as long as none of them has a propensity for chasing horses). Or if you happen to have a wallaby, like the one that was loose on Awbrey Butte for five days last week, we’d love to see that too! We’ll show you around, and put you to work if that’s what you want. And we love to answer questions.

To get back to potatoes briefly, they are members of the family Solanaceae, which includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and nightshade, to name a few. It is often called the Nightshade family, in fact, and if you’re at all familiar with tomato plants and nightshade plants, it’s easy to see the resemblance. If you’re not at all familiar, don’t worry, because nightshade is one of the weeds we seem to have the most of, so you’ll have a chance to compare them if you like. Generally the members of this family are heat lovers, so it may seem strange to sow potatoes in the middle of April in Central Oregon. However, potatoes are surprisingly resistant to cold, much more so than their more salsa-y cousins.  They originated in the mountainous regions of Peru, which explains their hardiness. They also take a relatively long time to reach maturity, meaning we have to get them in early if we’re going to get them to you before the end of our official season.

Potatoes are adventitious rooters, which means they can produce roots from any part of their stems. We use this to our advantage to produce more potatoes than would naturally occur. Many people hill potatoes, meaning that as the plants grow, they have soil piled higher and higher around them. Where the stems are buried, they begin rooting, and thus produce potatoes where there would otherwise have been only stems and leaves. Some people plant potatoes inside an old tire, then periodically stack another tire on top and fill the space inside with soil. This achieves the same effect as hilling, with the added advantage that, when you are ready to harvest, you can just knock the stack of tires over and the soil – and the potatoes – will spill out.

What we’re going to do runs along the same lines as hilling but with a little twist: instead of piling soil around the plants, we’ll pile mulch – old straw, in this case – and the potatoes will grow in the straw. This makes harvest a breeze, as pushing aside a pile of straw requires no effort at all compared to digging up an area of 300 square feet. Many people don’t even bury the seed potatoes when using this method; they just set them on top of the soil and mulch them immediately. It’s the ultimate in ease, as long as you have access to great enough quantities of mulch. We got ours from a friendly guy named Dan who farms up in Culver.

Culver, by the way, is a beautifully pastoral area, worth detouring through if you’re on the way to Madras or points north.

The weather report says it’s supposed to warm up drastically at the beginning of next week. Wouldn’t that be nice? Let’s all cross our fingers.

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