Super Chunk

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impatient gardener

May 24th, 2008 · 2 Comments

a handful of tiny potatoesOK, OK, I could have left these in the ground a bit longer (click for big). Like till August. But I get all worked up at the idea of pulling food from the ground — it’s even more magical to me than picking food from a plant (tomatoes, for example, or mulberries), because there’s no way to know what’s going on under there until you go to eat the stuff — and today I am doing things that make me happy, so I dug them up.

The story of these marble-sized potatoes begins at the grocery store, where I bought a bunch of small red potatoes last winter. For whatever reason, we didn’t eat them all, and so one or two of them sprouted. Meanwhile, I’d been rereading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which points out that potatoes grow only when they are darn good and ready. You can’t rush them, and you can’t expect them to wait for you.

Adam and Becky and I cut some eye sections out (those are Adam’s hands, BTW — he was trying quite hard to get his face in the picture, but I’m too smart for him. This is not his story.) and put them in flowerpots with regular potting soil. Then we waited, and we measured (I did not make my preschoolers graph anything), and we marveled at the single fragrant purple potato flower that bloomed in my dining room. When it was warm enough, we put the plants out in the garden and left them alone.

We gave sprouted potatoes to friends for their own gardens, and I personally planted three ancient bakers in my mother’s side yard a few weeks ago. Today I showed Dan my handful of potato babies. I actually had tears in my eyes.

If you want to try this, you won’t need to put much effort into it (although you’ll want to invest in a pitchfork if you want any kind of volume). Some tips and information:

  • Make sure there is adequate light. My plants were pretty leggy, and potatoes are supposed to be more shrubby. This is more of an aesthetic issue than anything else, though.
  • Potatoes grow underground. You want to keep them covered up, because if they are exposed to light they’ll get bitter. (I *think* they actually start to photosynthesize, but don’t quote me on that.) When you plant them outside, put them in hills so that the growing tubers don’t heave themselves out of the ground (but if they do, just cover them up with more dirt).
  • Water well, keeping soil moist within an inch of the surface. Potatoes are thirsty, but they don’t like having wet feet, so don’t let them sit in a puddle for any extended time.
  • You’ll get several baby potatoes from each eye section that you plant. You know what those are, right? They kind of look like, well, EYES. :) The potato part will decompose and feed the new plant.
  • Worth repeating: Potatoes sprout on their own schedule. If you’re buying potatoes at the grocery store to try this experiment, organics may sprout sooner than conventionally grown potatoes (many are sprayed with a chemical to keep them from sprouting in transit or in the store). As I am not deeply invested in this particular garden adventure (i.e. my survival does not depend on successfully harvesting potatoes at a particular time of year), I feel okay about recommending that you just cut up a potato that’s already sprouted in your pantry or crisper drawer. If you really need your potatoes to live and to sustain you, please consult a more experienced gardener than me.
  • If you want to do this inside (see above re: timing and investment), choose a largish pot to begin with. The adult plants are about three feet tall if you have enough light, and transplanting was rather a nuisance.

That is all. Thank you for your patronage.

Tags: daily · kid stuff · garden · food

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Elizabeth // May 26, 2008 at 4:08 am

    You probably know this, but if the potato is exposed to light and goes green, don’t eat it - they’re actually poisonous. At the very least, it will give you a very upset digestive system - not sure what it would do to little bodies.

  • 2 Cat // May 27, 2008 at 7:54 am

    You are too cool! My kids would probably love this!

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