Last week saw gold fever hit the family homestead. In preparation for Scott’s annual Birthday BBQ Bash, K1 and K2 took to the soil with their prospecting bag of tools in search of those starch-rich nuggets of gold.
Typical of many Aussie farming households of the 80’s and 90’s, our evening meal comprised the classic meat and three veg combo…with a mountain of creamy mash on the side. Whilst I devoured my evening Everest-esque mound like it was growing out of drought ridden fashion, I always did so with a slight air of reverence. Being the only female in the house, and therefore (quite ironically) the natural choice for all things domesticity, peeling potatoes formed part of my afternoon job list… and so that seemingly ordinary pile of starchy white mess gained a cerebrally acknowledged elevation in dinner-plate-status before disappearing down the meal-time gullet.
Roasted at Sunday Fried Brekkies, boiled for salads or mashed up and rolled into pillows of pasta, the humble solanum tuberosome continues it’s tradition as a treasured and sought after family staple. It has also proved it’s awerum worth as a garden staple, helping to satiate our lust for this highly prized tuber, as well as rejuvinate barren patches of land destined for the speculating market.
For those interested in seducing your chitting sprouts with promises of future returns on hard labour efforts, then you have a permit to read on:
- Go prospecting: space. It’s needed if you want to grow spuds. Not only do potatoes often inhibit the growth of other food plants, but hilling (and therefore excess soil) is required to obtain good yields. Alternatively there are many success stories of people growing them in sacks and poly tubes…but you’ll have to go all exploratory on the net for those instructions.
- Make the investment:…into some good quality, egg sized seed potatoes. I tend to purchase a variety of cultivars, often heirloom in origin, about 3 weeks before planting. Leave them in a dry, well lit (out of direct sunlight) location until they show a green tinge and are sprouting. This process is known as chitting.
- Open cut your mine: before you begin, you’re going to have to invest some hard labour efforts into carving out some space in your (most likely) sub-soiled back yard. Start by digging deep furrows (I like to go atleast 15 – 30 cm deep…sometimes deeper) and 50 cm apart. Place the seed potatoes in the base of the furrow (shoots facing upwards), about 20 – 30 cm apart. Cover the furrows with soil and water well. Ensure that the soil remains moist throughout the growing period to avoid poor growth or dryness. If you are looking for good yields (and not just rejuvenating soil) then apply a weed or seaweed tea every month or so and hill up the soil around the plant as it grows upwards, ensuring that you leave atleast some green leaves for photosynthesis and therefore growth. As I mostly grow potatoes as a perennial for soil rejuvenation purposes, I don’t tend to bother hilling. Instead I grow a cover/green manure crop or a trailing plant (like pumpkin) over the top and harvest the spuds for special occasions. (Picture below: seed potatoes in furrows and potato plant with a young pumpkin to grow over the top)
- Invest in some good detection technology: namely…your patient observation and interaction skills. After flowering, the plant will start to dye off. Making note of where they are planted can be useful as, in the case of my garden where I use potatoes mostly to improve soil (and hence they are not hilled), the wizened stems tend to blend in with the straw mulch.
- Fossick: the richly rewarding…and very exciting part of the job. It’s time to start digging. The big ones are for the tummy…the green ones and small ones are for replanting.
- Trade for a profit: it’s time to don the apron and unleash your glimmering, largess of spoils upon your salivating guests. Spudacious!
Eureka! After a profitable afternoon’s labour of culinary love – troweling and hoeing into the summer hardened soil – a bounty of golden, Dutch Cream spuds were lifted from their well concealed crevices and deposited into the kitchen larder bank in anticipation of a sizable dividend (to come in future posts): Scott’s Super Size Me Potato Salad and a divine batch of Gnocchi on Heavens Door.