"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Spud 'Speriment (Potato Poetry)

Today I was cleaning out the kitchen drawers. There's a big drawer on the bottom, lined with brown paper bags, that I use for potatoes and onions. This drawer tends to get a little, um, icky after a while, filling up with onion skins and soft, sprouty potatoes. This tendency has intensified somewhat since I started going to the Gleaner's Pantry (Scavenge City (Gleaner's Pantry)). Turns out that I sometimes bring home more potatoes than we can actually eat before they grow long, pale whiskers.

Of course, as long as the potato itself is still firm, not flabby, it is perfectly permissible to rub the whiskers off and cook the potato as usual. Often I do that. But this morning, as I was excavating the drawer, I came across a pound bag of lovely little fingerling potatoes that had sprouted. Previously, we had eaten several bags of these fingerlings, and so I know they are wonderful potatoes: nutty, dense, creamy, and delicious. I remember thinking "I ought to try to get ahold of some of these for planting this year." So, of course, when I found them all sprouted and ready for planting, I had to think about what to do with them.

It is still January. January is a ridiculous time to plant potatoes. Not only will we certainly have a few more hard frosts, but even if we didn't, the wet ground will rot any potatoes that I plant too early - meaning, before the end of March. Ask me how I know this. Yes, because I have repeated that elemental error several times in my pre-spring gardening ardor.

Other things I know about growing potatoes, in no particular order:

- people say they are the easiest of crops to grow, but I haven't found that to be the case. In only two of my six years here have I had a really good potato crop.

- people are also always saying that you can grow potatoes in containers easily, but I have not had luck with that, either. My two good crops both came out of the ground, and out of containers I have harvested only small, rather disappointing crops.

- it is strongly suggested in gardening books on my shelf that one buy seed potatoes for planting and that one does not use grocery store potatoes for planting. This is because seed potatoes are guaranteed free of various diseases and viruses, whereas grocery store potatoes are not. Nonetheless, anyone as cheap as I am (or, if you like, as frugal) will not like to waste grocery store potatoes that have become inedible, but will try to salvage them for seed. That's what my dad always did.

- "chitting" is the process of pre-sprouting your potatoes, i.e., what naturally happens to any potato left in a dark drawer for too long. I was somehow completely mistaken about the meaning of this word, and thought it meant just the opposite: rubbing the sprouts OFF of your potatoes sometime in january so that they would not go all soft and flabby and would still be viable for planting come spring. (http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/greensprouting-potatoes-zb0z1203zlon.aspx) I got this idea from reading some memoir, the title of which I cannot now remember, by a woman who grew up in Iowa during the depression and described "chitting the potatoes" as her least favorite job as a child. Going down to the cellar and handling the pale, soft, spidery potatoes gave her the heebie-jeebies, she wrote, but if the sprouts were not rubbed off, there would be no seed potatoes for the spring planting.

So here I had all these adorable little chitted potatoes, all ready to plant, and it is still january. Seeing as how it was either plant them or throw them away (I have a serious potato surplus at the moment; and none of my farm animals relishes sprouty potatoes), I decided to perform an experiment.

The south side of my house has an enclosed porch with floor to ceiling windows. It isn't quite a sunroom, because there isn't ever quite enough sun up here to justify that title. But it is a large space with lots of light, protected from freezing temperatures. I thought, why not fill a couple of big black plastic pots (of which I have several dozen) halfway up with dirt and straw and throw those potatoes in? I could place them by the south windows and just let them be. What's the worst that could happen? So now I have a couple of twenty gallon pots in the "sunroom" planted with fingerling potatoes, which are officially the first planting of 2014. We'll see how it goes.

On a related note - I have only ever received material recompense for my poetry on one occasion. That was when I entered a poem into the WashingtonState Potato Commision's annual Potato Poetry contest, back in 1999 or thereabouts. I won. I won an apron, several potato cookbooks, and various sundries which I misremember now. Here is the 1998 (or thereabouts) prizewinning potato poem:

My dad planted potatoes
in old tires
all along the long side of the yard
and us kids grubbed them up
all summer
some as small as marbles
with thin, papery skin
some bigger than our child sized fists
The clean, cottony inside
of a baked potato
is such a surprise
or at least it was to us
who had prized them just that morning
asleep from the mud


Andy Brown said...

Well I hope the experiment inspires more poetry!