Sunday, June 24, 2012

How to Grow Potatoes

     There is a complicated way and there is an easy way to grow potatoes.  The complicated way is goof-proof, but the easy way is, well, easy.  You simply throw potato peelings onto your compost heap.  Sometimes potato plants spring forth with no help at all.
     One must always have potatoes in the pantry bin.  For a doctor getting home late at night it's a quick meal:  microwave three potatoes, drizzle olive oil, sprinkle salt, and serve with a glass of buttermilk.   A good night's rest will follow.
     If the potatoes waited for you too long,  they will have generated sprouts.  This means they are alive!  They haven't been sprayed by a packing house with chemicals to deter sprouting.  The places from which the sprouts grow are called "eyes."  Before they sprout they look like a little child's fingerprints  in the body of the potato--they challenge the potato-peeler.
     You need soil.  Sandy soil is best because it drains well and allows the tubers to expand freely, hence it yields larger potatoes.  Plant them when spring is around the corner.
     Take potatoes that have begun to sprout and cut them into pieces about the size of big marshmallows, making sure each piece has an eye.  If you buy seed potatoes at the feed outlet or hardware store they will be a strain resistant to viruses.  It was news to me that potatoes are vulnerable to viruses, like people.  Then my son informed me that humans have 99% of the same DNA as bananas.  Either the last 1% counts for a lot or we need to be kinder to plants.
     Pull the weeds and grass out of the soil.  If there aren't any it's not good soil, the plants will suffer, and the potatoes will be malformed.  You can augment soil with compost, preferably made from your own kitchen and yard waste, or with dry manure from chickens or cows you have known personally.  Do not use commercial fertilizer.  The potatoes will absorb the organophosphates and deliver them directly through your GI tract to your living cells.  Any quantity of synthetic organophosphate fertilizer is unhealthy.
     Dig a hole in the soil and drop one of the potato cubes into the hole.  Cover it with soil.  Make several rows,  spacing them one foot apart.  Mound the soil over the potato cubes as though a gopher had just been at work in the vicinity. Make a shallow drainage halo around the mounds and spread hay on top to keep out sunlight.
     Water the potatoes every day or two if it doesn't rain.  Sandy soil will allow excess water to drain off.  If water pools around potatoes they will rot.
     In two weeks the lush crinkly green leaves of the plant will emerge.  In six weeks the potatoes underground will be like golf balls.  They are delicious washed and boiled for 10 minutes, with nothing added.  In four more weeks they will be as big as fists.
     Burying your fingers deep in the soil below the potato stalks and discovering these magnificent prizes renews one's faith in the earth, sunshine, rain, the power we have to regenerate life, even our own wretched lives, from the most ignoble of places, with meager raw materials, and a measure of patience.  When I dig potatoes I think of lines from Louise Gluck's "The Wild Iris:"

       ... It is terrible to survive
          as consciousness
          buried in the dark earth....
          You who do not remember
          passage from the other world
          I tell you I could speak again:  whatever
          returns from oblivion returns
          to find a voice...

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