Jun 27, 2008

On Potato Blossoms, the Great Starvation, and DNA

True, the phrase "potato blossoms" does not carry the sorts of festive connotations as do such word combinations as "cherry blossoms" or "apple blossoms," but these flowers nonetheless have a subtle beauty all their own.

I've been planting potatoes in my gardens for a few years now, and this spring I doubled the amount of seed potatoes I usually plant. I suppose this was in part a subconscious reaction in light of grain shortages and skyrocketing food prices, but truth be told, I also had more seed cuttings than I needed, and I could not bear to just throw them out.

So I have a few dozen sturdy, 3-foot plants starting to bloom in late June, which probably means something like 100-150 pounds of potatoes from late August to early October, all for a little over $1.00 in seed potatoes. Of course, there is some labor involved, since it's a good idea to gradually add a few inches of extra dirt every few weeks in case the potato tubers peek through the ground, as well as the occasional weeding that is needed.

I also think my own quasi-Irish heritage plays a role in my fascination with growing my own potatoes, and perhaps the urge to plant these edible tubers is hardwired into the DNA of the descendants of Irish peasants. Anthropologist Seamus Metress describes the period from 1845-51 as the Great Starvation in reference to the negligence and indifference of the British to address the Irish famine from the potato blight.

It is possible, then, that my decision to plant extra potatoes this year had its roots in a segment of the billions of nucleic acids - jumbled together in a fashion only God could fully comprehend - that comprise my being and influence the actions I take. Perhaps the urge to plant edible tubers, though not as strong as the drive to reproduce or the will to live, is instinctual in nature, and I was responding to some chemical reaction that activated after the appearance of a certain external stimulus (news about food shortages).

Or maybe I am just a cheap SOB who couldn't bear to waste 35 cents worth of red and white seed potatoes.


Mad Jack said...

You know, there are few foods that look as appetizing as a nice baked potatoe with a nice piece of melting butter on it.

Good, that.

microdot said...

What variety did you plant? I'd love to have purple potato blossoms.
I never grew red potatoes.
I have three rows of a variety called Spunta. That's approximately 120 plants.
I grow spuntas every year. They keep well and are good fried, baked or mashed...

historymike said...

Agreed, MadJack, that few things in life beat the humble potato.

historymike said...

The whites are Kennebec. The reds, which the purple blossoms are from, are Red Norlands.

I had good results with Russet Burbank whites last year, but I picked some a bit early. Better to wait and let them soak up some September sun.

Anonymous said...

I grew potatoes for first time this year in my garden. I bought them from the state of Oregon (Yukon Gold and some variety of red) They are going like gang busters right now. The wind has been a little rough last week. You don't have to water much with all the rain we are getting. Do you use bone meal for fertilizer? I hope they turn out well. Do you use any insecticides, etc?

Dave Schulz

historymike said...

Hey Dave:

I usually avoid the pesticides unless I start seeing a particular bug. I've never had a problem with potato bugs before.

As far as fertilizers, I use a 10-20-10 early in the year and that's about it. I do some home-mulching, and I figure the mulch provides much of the nutrients that the potatoes remove from the soil.

microdot said...

I don't use fertilizer, but I rotate my potato crop. I prepare the ground by making a trough where I am going to put my row of potatoes, then put fireplace ashes in the trough during the winter.
When I plant, I hoe the earth from each side of the row to make a raised row over the trough.
Then I plant my potatoes.

We always see the Colorado Striped Beetles here...another good reason to rotate the corp because the eggs winter over in the ground. The larva voraciously eat the leaves and burrow into the ground.

I always use an organic pesticide I get at the Coop Agricole specifically against the beetle.

I just finished my potatoes from last year!