FOOD: The Luck of the Irish

By KATHLEEN NIXON
Falls Church Times Staff

March 18, 2001

Happy belated St Patrick’s Day to all! For me St. Patrick’s Day does not have many good memories as they are associated with weird combinations of food and beverage. I was fortunate to go to college in Southern California but it was during the time when the fusion of Mexican and Irish food was in its heyday.  I appreciate a chef’s desire to be innovative and creative with the fusing of different food types, but this is one I think should have been left alone. The green refried beans were the last straw for me.

As I matured, I realized that bad memories should be replaced with good habits, so St. Patrick’s Day for me is a reminder to plant my potatoes. Now that we are seeing some warmer weather- today it is supposed to be 74! – and I am sure everyone is itching to get some good vegetables into the ground to enjoy later in the year. I challenge you to try potatoes as I have found them to be one of the easiest vegetable to plant.

The hard part is selecting the type of potato you would like to plant. Potatoes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and harvest times. Do you go exotic with a Peruvian Blue, surrender to the buttery fingerlings or the standbys of baking potatoes?  If you are looking for a year round supply of potatoes you will want some that are harvested in late spring, then late summer and finally in the fall. Or if your family is partial to one type of potatoes versus the other, you may want to select just one.

The great thing about planting potatoes is that it is one of the best fits for an urban gardener as a small area can yield a large supply of potatoes. In my 5’ by 5’ area I was able to plant several rows of potatoes that yielded over 40 pounds. You can either plant potatoes in your soil, or lay the seed potatoes on top of the ground and hill straw around them creating “hills” that are 3 -5 inches high. Other urban gardeners, have raved about planting potatoes in tires and that is what I called expert recycling.

Harvesting the potatoes couldn’t be simpler as the plant is very clear with you when it is ready – it starts to wilt, and die. When my potatoes stalks completely wilted at the end of last summer, I first thought I had failed again at vegetable gardening and didn’t do anything with them. About three weeks later, I decided I wanted to prepare the soil for a winter crop so I started digging up the soil. The shrieks of delight as I kept digging up more and more potatoes kept everyone in my family amused all day long.

For your planting you will either want to get seed potatoes from a reputable supplier or use some of your own. Last year when I planted my potatoes I used potatoes that I had stored over the winter that had begun to sprout.  I planted the whole potato about 2 inches below the ground with the sprouted eye just barely above the surface.  While this worked well for me, if you read any of the gardening journals they will say this is not a recommended practice as you may have a diseased lot. But I knew the source of the potatoes as I know the source of all my food and I am a radical, so I went for it. Not all the potatoes grew, about half of them, but I still had a substantial yield for a first time.

Now where do you get seed potatoes? The quickest and easiest place is Brown’s Hardware. Last spring, while in Brown’s they had the basket of seed potatoes right up front near the cash register. A woman picked up one of the seed potatoes and added it to her pile of purchases. Mr. Brown in his diplomatic and polite way asked what she was planning to do with the one potato. Her response was “it will be my dinner” Mr. Brown delicately explained that the potato was meant to be planted not eaten.

When I prepared myself last year to plant potatoes, I scoured the internet for articles and videos to show me how. In the end, this video was my favorite from Garden Girl. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oslCBENbkGw

By
March 18, 2011 

Comments

4 Responses to “FOOD: The Luck of the Irish”

  1. Mike Smith, Falls Church on March 18th, 2011 8:06 am

    Great article, the lowly spud doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

    I’m still wrapping my mind around Irish-Mexican fusion food. Those of us who went to college in the northeast know what a proper Irish seven course meal is – a potato and a six-pack!

  2. Jessica Morris, CITY of Falls Church on March 18th, 2011 8:38 am

    Thanks for the article on planting food. I’m curious… having little light in my backyard, and I am resigned to the fact that my planting back there will be best suited for shade friendly annual flowers. With your article on planting potatoes, it gives me hope. Would you recommend planting potatoes if there’s only a little afternoon sun?

  3. Kathleen Nixon on March 18th, 2011 9:37 am

    Mike
    Yes the fusion food can sometime be scary, but again we are talking a few eons ago and many chefs are much better at doing fusion foods.

    Jessica you have the same challenges that many of us have – smaller gardens with plenty of shade.

    As background, I do not have formal garden training other than my 20 years in various gardens with various micro-climates. Gardening be it flowers, plants or vegetables is a practice of patience and trial and error. In my research and trial and error, I have found that potatoes are not particular about the ground they are in and some can be planted above ground. They do like some sun. The potatoes that I grew last year got sun from midday to late afternoon.

    Don’t despair, there are many vegetables that you can try and don’t forget container gardening, if there are other areas of your home that can support containers. Cool weather crops like lettuce, kale and cilantro do better in shadier areas. I have also had luck with blueberries in shadier, wet areas. There are many types of blueberry bushes – high and low bushes- which are native to this area. There is a vendor at the Falls Church Farmers Market that offers a few types of blueberry bushes.

    Also for shady areas there are some nice perennials that I have had great success with over the years: hellebores – which are a low growing flowering evergreen, russian olives which are a woody perennial bushes with fragrant flowers in the fall, and hostas, hydrangeas and rhododendrons.

    Gardening for flowers or vegetables should not be a chore but a pleasant past time that exercises the body, the mind and the creativity.

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