"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Spudlicious Endeavor

The potatoes have all been harvested and it didn't even rain! Usually when we harvest root crops around the last week in September and into October the weather is fairly miserable... rainy and cold. This time, for a change, we were able to pull all of the spuds in last weekend's sun, how nice.

This year's crop was not nearly as big or numerous per plant as in previous years due to the unseasonably warm summer and the fact that I used a lot less water...just to see what I could get away with. Fortunately, we planted quite a few more than normal with the hopes of supplementing our chickens winter diet with potatoes as well. So in the end we were lucky enough to get our biggest harvest ever, lots of potatoes just not really big ones.

We chose to grow 25 varieties this year because What Good is a Russet Without a Purple Majesty by it's Side!. I was happy with most of them but a few really underperformed: Red Lasota, Red Pontiac, and Adora. Those three will not be included in next season's garden as a couple are now perennial under achievers. One of my new favorite potatoes that we decided to try this year after reading about it on Throwback at Trapper Creek 's blog post Winter stores update is Viking Purple. All of them performed marvelously producing an abundance of uniformly sized potatoes. I will be growing many more of those along with my other two standouts Anna Cheeka Ozette and Russian Banana next spring.

We left our potatoes in the ground for several weeks to harden off after most of the vines had died back, this helps to thicken the potato skins which in turn increases the length of time potatoes can be stored. As we pulled our four rows the potatoes were placed in buckets to help keep the different varieties separate until I had a chance to go through and select the best looking ones for next year's seed potatoes.

The potatoes were then spread out in the dark of our basement to dry for a couple weeks and will eventually be moved into their permanent winter storage room where they will be sorted out on shelves to be used as needed. Our house was built in the 1930's and the basement has an old well in it providing the perfect combination of cold and humidity, good storage conditions for most root vegetables and tubers. We can easily maintain an average temperature of 35 - 50° in our basement from October through April of each year.

I'm looking forward to enjoying lots of potato and kale soup this winter and perhaps I will even find it in my heart to share a few, not as many as I had originally planned, with the chickens. They like their spuds served steamed and warm with no condiments on frigid winter evenings.:)


Chris said...

Hello Mr. H, Have only posted here once before in reference to your informative info on the garlic bulbis. My question is totally off current posted topic, but I'd like to pick your brain if I may. I live in Zone 5, upstate NY and have read your archives on hoop houses and winter greens. Am I correct in that planting must be done in the fall? Also, perhaps I am missing something, but how do you harvest in winter? Do you wait for the chance mild day to lift the plastic? I am entertaining visions of swirling snow and 19 degree temps entering this green sanctuary as I attempt to harvest my coveted winter greens and !POOF! all is ruined after all the effort. Since this is off topic, if you would care to reply by email I would greatly appreciate any info I could glean from your experience. Thanks

inadvertent farmer said...

I am in awe...that is a great potato harvest. I love potatoes and am envious of your bounty! Great, great job, Kim

Mr. H. said...

Hi Chris,

Keeping in mind that the way we do things may not work as well in your area. We also live in zone 5 and normally get a large amount of snow every year. This snow acts a sort of insulation keeping the ground from freezing too deeply which in turn helps keep many of the plants roots from freezing solid for extended periods of time.

That said, we plant kale, chard, red sorrel, parsley and collard greens anytime in early June for larger winter greens. We plant more kale, and chard in August for smaller winter greens.

In early September we will plant winter density romaine, oak leaf, arugula and other cold hearty lettuces that will survive under cover through late December at which point the weather will take its toll on them.

We also begin planting spinach, mache, mustard, and turnip greens in September but no earlier as they may bolt to seed in the heat.

Many of these greens can freeze and thaw numerous times before it has an effect on them at a cellular level. Spinach, kale, chard, red sorrel, parsley, turnip greens, and some endive can be picked while frozen solid and be perfectly fine as long as they are thawed at a temperature that is just above freezing.

If you do this right you will never know that they were frozen just an hour ago, it's really pretty amazing. If they are thawed at room temperature they may become a bit limp but still make an excellent cooked green.

We harvest salad greens all winter long and usually have to remove the snow in order to get to those greens. Sometimes they are frozen but a little sun will heat a low row cover pretty quickly and in February through April we can often harvest the greens in late afternoon without them being frozen. A little blowing snow will not harm any of these greens as long as they are under cover most of the time. Cold wind and rain are much more damaging than snow and the row covers keep this out.

I highly recommend Eliot Colemans "Four Season Harvest" as a great read on growing winter greens. I hope this helps, please feel to ask any garden questions anytime.

Mr. H. said...

Thanks Kim,

We also love our spuds, this was not the best year for them but certainly good enough...and enough is as good as a feast.:)

el said...

Ah, the "good enough" debate, how fun!

You know, I harvested YOUR potatoes last this year. Wanted to give them plenty of time...and of course after I panicked about rain it didn't rain at all for weeks! Yeah, those Huckleberries did really well, as did the All Blues but everyone else wasn't nearly as happy as I wish they could've been in this clay soil...the Swedish fingerlings especially as the ones I harvested early were tay-stee!

But: I would say you have enough to spare for those chickies. Goodness knows those girls work for you, right? ;)

Mr. H. said...


The huckleberries are great but I am really a huge fan of the all blues. I do love my purple and blue veggies.

And those red headed working girls, well they are not working nearly as hard as they should be...spoiled with easy living I suppose.

I have a feeling the next batch of eggs will be red as they have been privy to so many beet greens of late. They are not only spoiled but fully aware that they have the upper hand...what's a guy to do.:)

Ruralrose said...

you really work hard don't you - love the shot showing the woods around the garden, makes your efforts very clean - good tips for potatoes i will use next year - btw ate the wild currant berries to much delight - thanks, peace for all

Mr. H. said...


I'm glad you tried the wild currents. We found a great spot to gather them this year and hope to get enough to to make a little healthy jam next season.

If you ever want to try something interesting, take about a tablespoon of any type of current along with a pinch of brown sugar and bake them with/in your squash...we like it.

WeekendFarmer said...

amazing! Can we import some of your soil? : )

Mr. H. said...


Dirt for honey perhaps?:) It looks like you grew quite a few colorful spuds this year as well.

Stefaneener said...

Yum! Oh that looks great. I'm going to have to try again with potatoes this spring. The nice thing about gardening is how there is always next year! Your chickens are really indulged.

Mr. H. said...


Our chickens are fat and spoiled...but happy.

Jo said...

Beautiful potato harvest. I have grown Purple Vikings in the past but have found them to be not-as-good keepers as I would like. After the first season very few that I kept for seed made it through the winter for planting the following spring. After the second season none did.

I tried a new variety last year-- Kerr's Pink from SSE. So far I am loving it. Also like the All Red from SSE. Maybe I will give Purple Viking another chance, though. The purple skins and snow white flesh are very pretty.

Mr. H. said...

Hi Joe,

Hopefully they will store well for us, I have not even eaten one yet...I hope they are good.

I'll have to take a look at what SSE has to offer, Kerr's Pink sounds interesting.

LynnS said...

What a beautiful potato harvest!! We didn't grow any potatoes this year, maybe a blessing with the blight everywhere.

So many varieties you grow, but then what's an Idaho garden without potatoes, right? I think the most I've done in one year is 5....but then, we're Virginians. ;-)

Mr. H. said...

When we were trying to keep them properly tagged this spring I was wishing that I had only grown five varieties.:) It's fun to have such a potato diversity.

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