Potatoes may seem humble, but if you’ve tasted new ones freshfrom the garden, you know they can be sublime. Thin-skinned red and white kinds are favorites of gardeners,especially when harvested while small (no more than 3 inches indiameter) and eaten soon afterward. Their flavor is superior to that ofmarket potatoes. Some enthusiasts liken the difference to that betweenhome-grown and bought tomatoes. If you want to grow potatoes for storage, russets for baking are agood choice. But many gardeners have trouble duplicating the hefty sizeof market bakers, and storage tends to reduce the flavor advantage aftertwo or three months.
Plant potatoes as soon as they are available at nurseries, gardensupply stores, or feed and seed centers in late winter or spring.Don’t plant market potatoes–they’re often treated with growthretardant. Red-skinned seed potatoes may be in short supply in someareas this season due to a partial crop failure. Seed potatoes, shown in step 1, are widely sold. You’llsometimes find handy precut chunks–1-inch-diameter pieces that arecallused and ready to plant. Cut seed potatoes as shown above, then let them cure for one tothree days in a humid spot away from direct sun.
Where to plant, how to plant. In full sun, prepare soil withplenty of organic matter so that it will be rich, fluffy, and welldrained. Raised beds can provide an ideal environment. The 4- by8-foot raised beds shown here, made from redwood 2-by-12s, contain alight, porous mix of equal parts of topsoil and redwood compost.
If youdon’t have wood-framed raised beds, make mounded beds about a foothigh. Before planting, mix in a complete fertilizer. If you useslow-release pellets, you won’t have to feed again; with otherkinds, apply one or two light doses of nitrogen fertilizer once theplants are growing well. Keep up with watering, since closely spaced plants dry out quickly.It’s important to keep the soil evenly moist: periodic drying willresult in misshapen potatoes. When to harvest.
Thin-skinned potatoes are ready to dig when theplants start to decline; stems will start toppling and leaves wilt andeventually yellow. This usually occurs a week or so after flowering.You can dig up the whole plant or raid a few potatoes by digging intothe soft soil with your hands. The raised bed shown here providespotatoes for four people over a six-week harvest period. When washing harvested potatoes, slosh them in a container of water(brushing can damage skin). To enjoy their delicate flavor, simply boil or steam unpeeled potatoes until tender and serve with butter and parsley.
They also areexcellent in salads.