Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Potatoes are Doing Great

I wish I had taken some pictures of my potatoes, but that was back in January before I started the blog, so y'all missed out. I got my potatoes from Ronniger's Potato Farm, which has every potato I've ever heard of x10 (or something like that).

I decided to go with one variety each of an early, mid season, and late season potato. Those categories have to do with how long it takes to go from planting to harvest, though I've found that days to maturity for plant varieties are useful only in comparing different varieties to each other, since it also has a lot to do with growing conditions. A 60 day variety will be done sooner than a 90 day variety, but not necessarily in exactly 60 days.

I chose my varieties carefully, because Texas is not exactly potato country. Potatoes are originally from the Andes mountains, and prefer climates similar to that. Idaho is like that, apparently. Ireland, too. Texas, not so much, so I scanned the catalog for varieties that were more tolerant of heat, drought, and heavy, alkaline soils.

For my early variety I ended up getting Red LaSoda, which is boring since it's the red potato everyone grows, but maybe that's for a good reason. Besides, the catalog says it does well in the south, so I figured it would be a safe bet.

For my middle variety I got something much more exciting, Purple Viking. It's purple! With pink stripes! Too bad the inside is white, but at least the outside looks cool. Maybe some day I'll try one of those potatoes that are colored throughout, such as All Blue or All Red, but the catalog says Purple Viking is drought tolerant, so that seemed safer.

For my late variety, I had fewer choices. Early potatoes tend to be the waxy kind, while late potatoes seem to be more likely to be the mealy, Russet types. This also seems to be correlated with how well they do in harsher climates, with the waxy types doing better than the Russets. However, I found one Russet that I thought would be worth a try, Rio Grande. It says nothing about heat tolerance, but it says it's "bred and grown from the waters of the Rio Grande River", and I only know of one Rio Grande River, so I'm making the assumption that it would do well in Texas.

I had been getting worried about my potatoes. I planted them in January like I was supposed to, and then waited, and waited, and waited, until FINALLY last week they started sprouting. In order, too, first Red LaSoda, then Purple Viking, and then Rio Grande. I'm not sure if potatoes always take this long, or if they were waiting until our unusually cold February was over to show themselves.

I decided to use the deep mulch method, which is recommended for less than perfect soils. As the potatoes grow, I'm going to keep piling more mulch on, forcing the potatoes to keep growing up, and putting out tubers along the buried stem. Then when harvest time comes it will be really easy to dig the potatoes out of the loose mulch. I used this method the last time I grew potatoes (which was the first time), back when I had a community garden. The only problem is now I have a lot less mulch than I did then. The community garden had a huge compost pile of leaves and grass clippings trucked in. Here I only have what I can get by myself. So far I have a nice pile of half-finished compost and grass clippings to use, but I hope I have enough to last the whole potato growing season.

Yesterday my Red LaSodas seemed ready to be buried in mulch for the first time.

While I was shoveling on the mulch I found a critter I had been expecting, but hadn't seen yet, a rhinocerous beetle grub!

I know, you've just clicked that link, and now you're like, "RHINOCEROUS BEETLES!?" Yeah, we have those here. I saw one walking around the back yard when we first moved in. Despite their HUGENESS, they're completely harmless detritovores. The grubs LOVE compost piles. Look at this beauty!

I stuck my hand in there to show that he's as big as my thumb, but the perspective made him look smaller. I just let him be and hope I didn't hurt him with all the digging I had done before I noticed him.

Anyway, it took two wheelbarrowfuls of compost to cover my 4x8 foot plot of Red LaSodas, and when I was done it looked like this.

Just a couple of leaves sticking out here and there. The potatoes will then grow up through the compost and I'll bury them again. The other potatoes are sprouting too, but the Rio Grandes are just starting to poke up sprouts, and the Purple Vikings are inbetween those and the reds. They'll get buried next.

Once the potatoes are harvested, all that mulch will leave a really rich bed for whatever gets planted next. Maybe I'll plant a heavy feeder there next, like corn.

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