We Love Those Spuds!
“Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew…”* Any way you like them, potatoes are fantastic, and they are classified as one of the world’s healthiest foods. Last season, Brian contacted Bill Zylman to put together some helpful tips for potato gardeners.
If you are considering doing a little food gardening this year, you may want to add the humble potato to your list!
Potatoes are classified as one of the world’s healthiest foods. Although spuds are 80 percent water and 20 percent solids, their nutritional value is impressive, particularly their high levels of Vitamins B6 and B3 and wide range of trace elements. The only vitamins missing are A and D. They contain starch (a carbohydrate), but they are free of gluten, fat, sodium and cholesterol. So, potatoes are actually good for us when prepared without all the high-calorie extras we tend to add!
Last season, Brian contacted Bill Zylman to put together a few helpful tips for potato gardeners. Bill, along with his wife Sandra, own W & A Farms in Richmond, one of the larger local potato growers and one of the main suppliers of seed potatoes in BC. Brian asked a lot of questions, and Mr. Zylman was very generous with his time and the information he shared!
Q: When can we plant potatoes?
A: “When soil temperatures stay reasonably consistent, at about 12˚C (55˚F), you can plant seed potatoes. The big thing is not to plant them too deep. Just set them in five to eight centimetres deep, maximum, and no deeper. Make sure your soil is well-draining, and if you can use either raised beds or berm up the soil by 15cm to 20cm, it will help keep the seed potatoes drier and warmer during our usually wet spring weather.”
Q: What about adding manures to enrich the soil and the resulting problems of potato scab?
A: “Enrich soil earlier to avoid this problem. The year before planting potatoes, incorporate manures into the soil in the late summer or fall. Make sure the manure is well broken-down.”
Q: Does lime present the same concerns?
A: “Lime should be applied two seasons before planting. Potatoes actually like the soil slightly acidic with a pH level of around 4.5 to 5. So, liming is not always necessary.”
Q: What do you look for in a seed potato?
A: “Most come pre-packaged, but if you are choosing from a bulk bin, look for lots of eyes or indentations with lots of sprouts.”
Q: How many pieces can you cut a large seed potato into?
A: “Technically, you can cut them back to one eye per piece, but two or three eyes will give you more growing shoots and more potatoes. When cutting larger seed potatoes into smaller pieces, wait 24 hours before planting so that the moisture on the cuts has a chance to dry and seal.”
Q: Are there any particular nutrients you would suggest?
A: “If folks want to grow organically, there are lots of great products available today. As a rule of thumb, an 8-10-10 formulation has been the recommended fertilizer for years.”
Q: What are the better potato varieties for our area?
A: “Warba is the standard early potato, maturing in about 75 days. These are the very flavourful new potatoes often sold locally in late June. Red potatoes are growing in popularity, and Norlands are an early red that matures in about 80 days.
The most popular mid-season potato is Yukon Gold. Its nice shape, yellow flesh, and great flavour make it one of the most in-demand varieties. Red Pontiac, an old-time favourite, is the real workhorse of all potatoes. When folks have difficulty growing potatoes, this is the variety that always comes through. The huge, oval-shaped Kennebec is another old reliable. It is ideal for baked potatoes and is the one most often used for french fries. These three varieties mature in about 85 days.
The best late variety for our area is the old Netted Gem, now known as Russet Burbank. It matures in 120 days and is an excellent keeper for winter enjoyment. It’s also a very versatile variety that you can use in so many ways.”
Q: What about all the novelty varieties we see on the shelves today?
A: “In terms of production, they really are a novelty, but today’s chefs love to spice up dishes with these unique potatoes. The banana and fingerling varieties are among the most popular because of their smaller sizes, interesting shapes, and distinct tastes. Some of the blue and orange varieties are wonderful in salads because of their unusual colours and flavours. Today, there are a lot of choices.”
Q: Do you have any other advice on growing potatoes?
A: “Always purchase certified seed, meaning they have been inspected for diseases, insects and vigour. In other words, they are clean. I know it’s difficult to do in a small space garden; however, try to rotate your crops every year or at least every two years to prevent soil-borne insects and diseases from becoming an issue. Don’t plant potatoes near tomatoes because they can share late-blight problems.”
Q: How do you know when to harvest your potatoes?
A: “When potato flowers have bloomed out, they are ready. Don’t pull up everything at once. Lift one hill to assess the size and harvestability. Once you are sure they are ready, get them out of the ground as they are very tempting to soil insects and diseases. Store them in a dark, cool (5˚ to 8˚C) location.”
Q: What’s new on the potato horizon?
A: “The latest breeding is focused on both yellow- and white-fleshed varieties for versatility, flavour, and days to harvest.”
Zylman made one final observation; “Potatoes provide the greatest return on your investment of any food crop.”
When this cooler weather breaks and soil temperatures reach 12˚C, we can start planting our early vegetables for an early harvest. Once that happens, we’re only 75 days away from harvesting those great-tasting new potatoes. Our first potato delivery of spring has just arrived, so now is an excellent time to select your spuds for the season ahead!