Who needs Valentines Day when you have Potato Taste Test Day? We have eight exciting new varieties in our catalog this year, and the team was eager for some starchy samples. In the face of such an important task, our sales manager Jack, British born and raised, rose to the occasion this Friday. "Potatoes are a big deal in England," he said, washing and peeling the sample seed potatoes. It's a comment on their complex history, considering the potato originated in the South American Andes and remains an important staple there as well.
We know what you're thinking: What is Jack's secret to perfectly crispy roast potatoes? Don't worry, we won't keep you hanging. But first, dear gardener, you must grow them! Luckily, it turns out potatoes are just as easy to grow as they are to cook—and to eat! This spring, try these tips and tricks for taters.
HOW TO GROW POTATOES
Plant potatoes in spring when the soil has warmed and can be worked well - anytime from about 2 weeks before your last frost date until early summer, as long as there are about 90 days of the growing season left. Potatoes require full sun and plentiful water, and do best in loose, well-drained soil that is kept weed-free. They benefit from regular applications of an organic fertilizer throughout the growing season, and side dressing with a good compost as the plants grow. Here are six easy steps to homegrown potatoes:
Prep: Set potatoes in a room temperature environment where they will be exposed to medium light for about a week before your planting date. A day or two before planting, any potatoes larger than an egg can be cut into smaller pieces with a sharp, clean knife. Each cut segment should contain 1-2 eyes or buds, and should be no smaller than 2" square. (See the photo to the left as an example.) After cutting, allow the potatoes to dry so that they form a thick callous over the cut surfaces, which will help to prevent them from rotting after planting.
Plant: Option 1—Trench. The most common growing method. Trenches should be 6-8" deep, and potato pieces placed eye side up at the bottom of the trench and covered with only 4 inches of soil to begin. Option 2—Bag. Many with space constraints prefer to plant potatoes in large grow bags, such as our 10 gallon Recycled Fabric Planters. Roll the top of the bag down, forming a cuff, until you've adjusted the height of the bag to about 7". Fill the bag with soil to about 4" and place your potato pieces on the surface, eye side up, then cover with another 3" of soil. A 10-gallon size bag can accommodate 3-5 evenly spaced pieces/plants. As the plants grow, unroll the bag slightly and add about 4" of soil, so that only 3-4" of foliage are left exposed. Keep repeating this process until the bag is full.
Hill: For those opting for the trench method. A few weeks after planting, fill in the rest of the trench so that only 3-4 inches of foliage are exposed. "Hill" the plants again in another 2-3 weeks by mounding soil around the base of the plants. Hilling prevents the newly forming tubers from sunburn and greening by keeping them covered, and provides more soil space for tubers to form in, thus maximizing your harvest.
Tend: Throughout the season, keep your potatoes weed-free and the soil evenly moist, particularly while the plants are flowering. When the foliage starts to die back and yellow, discontinue watering to allow the potatoes to begin to cure and prepare them for harvest.
Harvest: Potatoes should be harvested 2-3 weeks after the foliage has died back. Gently turn them up from the soil with a fork (hands are just as easy in a grow bag!).
Cure: If storing your potatoes, allow them to cure, unwashed, in a dry, protected area for 2-3 days before moving them to a root cellar or pantry.
Pretty simple, right? And in the world of garden tubers, it only gets easier! Sunchokes (or Jerusalem Artichokes), tasty, starchy tubers that are native to North America, follow essentially the same planting instructions. In their case, however, you don't have to cut them before planting or hill them throughout the season. Just take care not to let them dry out before planting. We recommend giving them a try!
Did you know potatoes are also great pollinator plants? They produce pretty white or blue blooms. Next time you're digging into those mashed potatoes, thank the bees!
Growing tubers can be a paradoxical experience: On the one hand, it can be excruciating to tend to the foliage and have no idea how the crop is doing down in the soil. But most of us will agree that the experience of unearthing a homegrown spud is gardening bliss.
JACK'S SUPER CRISPY BRITISH ROAST POTATOES
What you'll need:
- Large pot
- Baking dish
- Olive oil or duck fat
- Rosemary, thyme, or other herbs of choice
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and put a pot of water up to boil.
- Once the water is boiling, hard boil the potatoes for 8 minutes.
- Remove the potatoes, peel them, and parboil them for another 8 minutes.
- Drain the water but leave the potatoes in the pot. Now shake it! No, seriously. Shaking the potatoes around in the pot will fluff their surfaces and give you the crispiest exterior.
- In the baking dish, heat the oil or fat with the herbs to infuse them. Then add the potatoes, mix to coat, and place them in the oven.
- Roast the potatoes for 3 sets of 20 minutes. After each 20-minute interval, flip and move the potatoes in the dish for an even roast. Before the last interval, you can sprinkle some more herbs to add even more flavor.
- After the potatoes have cooled just a little, devour them and delight!