Friday, September 6, 2013

Tater Time

I was putting a chicken in my crockpot, which by the way is number one on my list of kitchen essentials, when I realized I had no potatoes!
What I do have are numerous grow-bags full of potatoes waiting to be harvested. My family in West Virginia notes that we do not "harvest potatoes." We "grovel" potatoes. No matter what you call it, my taters are neglected.

Not only are the potatoes neglected, they're sitting in a completely neglected part of the yard. Early on, I made the mistake of trying to conquer every corner of my yard simultaneously. Doing so only left me with half-accomplished garden beds. I now have several "blind corners," where I stick gangly plants, plants I regret buying, plants I divided and can no longer find space for, and the very utilitarian but ugly potato grow-bags.

My potatoes grow on the East side of the house, next to the AC unit and the electric box thing. They're hanging out with some Knock-out roses and Russian sage - isn't that combo just so 2007?! But there they are, getting part-sun and just enough rain water to survive and thrive.

Half-full grow bags.
The grow bags are actually an ingenious invention. I bought mine from Gardeners Supply, but they're available at just about any garden center. The dark, felt material keeps the taters warm, while allowing water to seep through. By layering soil on top of new growth, it's easy to get a below-ground effect.

The best part is the harvest. If you have a couple of kids around, this is the job for them. They can either dig in with bare hands and feel for the spuds, or turn the whole bag over and tussle around in the dirt looking for them. This is a great play-date activity, especially if you can send the kids home immediately after harvest with a few gems to cook for dinner. The kids and the taters will be covered in dirt, so their parents will love you, too!

Seriously though, planting potatoes in grow bags is a great school garden project. It can be hard to time school vegetable gardens, because of the growing season.  Normally, potatoes are planted in late winter or early spring. They can handle some neglect over the summer, and they'll be ready for harvest in September.
Princess La Ratte - fit for a king!

There are many varieties, but my favorites are the miniatures and fingerlings. I grow Russian Banana Fingerling, Princess LaRatte, and All Blue from Kitchen Garden Seeds. You can plant them whole. When you harvest them, don't forget to save a few for the following year. The flavor is so tender, sweet, and buttery that it's a shame to over-process them. Sautee with a little butter, or slow-cook 'em with chicken, lemon, and a little broth.

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