Wednesday, April 18, 2012

One Potato, Two Potatoes, Three Potatoes!

Spring so far has been unusually cool and rainy for southwest France.  I am not complaining.  Much time is saved because I don't need to water, the soil is a pleasure to work, and everything looks and smells so freshly green.

Main part of the potager viewed from a second-story window

The pansies may actually last for another month or so before getting done in by heat.

Some of the pansies started from seed last autumn enjoying a cool breeze

Les Fruitiers are just starting the next stage of their cyclic growth.  Their tiny but perfectly formed fruits never cease to delight.  Despite their minuscule size, details like individual grapes, fuzz on peaches, and the distinctive silhouette of figs can be seen clearly.

Grape vines provide both fruit and veggies as I use the leaves to make dolmades

Our fig tree has two crops, one in spring and a larger one in autumn

Garden-grown potatoes (pommes de terre in French=apples of the earth) are stupendous, out-of-this-world tasty, so different from store bought that with my first taste last season, I decided it was a new vegetable, one that the rest of the world greedily had succeeded in hiding from me!

Certified seed potatoes are the surest way of not starting with already diseased potatoes.  Note well that seed potatoes are chemically treated and therefore are not edible.  The seed potato itself eventually shrivels into a dark, hard mass making it easy to discard when harvesting.

Sprouting or chitting increases the number of planted potatoes that will grow into plants, while making that growth quicker.  It takes about six weeks to chit potatoes so keep that in mind when ordering them.  If there is no time to properly sprout them, they can still be planted as most of them will grow.  Place them with the sprouts facing up in a warm, sunny place.  The appearance of the desired, dark-coloured sprouts is triggered by sunlight.  Remove any long, white, brittle sprouts which may have grown because of lack of light.  Sometimes the skin harmlessly wrinkles during sprouting because of dehydration.  They are still fine to plant.

Desiree, a red-skinned, late-season variety happily sprouting on a sunny window sill

When sprouts are about an inch to two inches long, the potatoes can be planted outdoors.  If seed potatoes are large enough, they can be cut into chunks containing one or two sprouts.  Let the cut surface dry for a day.

Planted potatoes can take a light frost, and if necessary horticultural fleece can be used to protect them.  In my climate, I plant early ones by mid March, mid-season varieties by end of March, and the late-season main crop by mid April.  This schedule enables successive harvesting for both fresh eating and storage.  Also choose varieties that lend themselves to the kind of recipes you do--firmer ones for steaming and salads, drier or mealy ones for baking, and an in-between texture for all-purpose.

Loosen and aerate the soil deeply with a spade and fork in some compost if you have it.  Then make an six-inch-deep and a spade-wide trench.  Sprinkle the recommended amount of bonemeal at the bottom.  Bonemeal supplies a big hit of phosphorus (the second number in an NPK formula) which promotes root development.  It is considered suitable for organic gardens.  As cats go nuts over bonemeal be careful you do not bury a small, beloved pet along with the seed potatoes.

When bonemeal is cruelly denied to Dayo, he settles for a nice snack of apple blossoms

Cover the bonemeal with an inch of soil, then place seed potatoes about fifteen inches apart with sprouts pointing upwards.  For chunks, put the cut end on the soil.  Three potato plants fit crosswise in my block beds.

This variety is mid-season Mona Lisa

Using a rake, pull the soil piled on the side down over the potatoes, filling in the trench.  A small plank can be used to firm the planting.  Place it where needed and gently step on it.

About two weeks later:  lusty, emerging potato plant

When my motivation ebbs during digging trenches, I take a break under the pergola and think of herb and sour-cream onion/potato/saucisse de Strasbourg soup or potatoes au gratin or the Calm One's speciality, kitchen-sink potato salad containing herring, apples, cornichons, hard-boiled eggs, salami, tons of mayo, and oh yes, some potatoes, cleverly cut into perfect, itsy-bitsy cubes via an egg slicer.  I then hobble from the comfort of my seat and manage a few more goes with my spade.


Herb & sour-cream onion/potato/saucisse de Strasbourg soup
Kitchen-sink potato salad