Sunday, June 03, 2007

One Potato, Two Potato

“I am at two with nature” Woody Allen

This is my first try at growing potatoes, and I got this nifty potato bin that is a piece of black heavy plastic with holes and clips that hold the ends together to form a large open-ended tube. I got the basic “Yukon Gold” seed potatoes in the mail and I planted them in March. I’m of two minds as I watch them grow.

On one hand, rather than experiment with fancy Euro-heirloom purple potatoes, I wanted to plant an old reliable to assure we’d enjoy a bountiful harvest. On the other hand, all potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are in the nightshade or Solanacae family – a family tree that has born some deadly ancestors. Who could forget Crusader Rabbit's archetypical villan: Dudley Nightshade?

Not to be confused with Hamhock Jones, the erstwhile postmodern Freudian Ego-Id confrontation personified as the perpetual contest between the hero and villain described by the folks at Bullwinkle.Toonzone as “Dudley Do-Right (A dimwitted Canadian Mountie… and Hamhock Jones”, in the parenthetically described “story of a private eye that had to figure out how to punish a set of Siamese twins, with one good, and the other bad.” Hokey existential smoke Bullwinkle!

But back to growing potatoes. Considering that I was blindly experimenting about growing potentially poisonous things, I probably should have done more advance research.

On one hand, the only potato advice I recall getting from Mom is never buy green potatoes because they’re sunburned. This advice is consistent with the Arizona Master Gardener Manual produced by the Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture, University of Arizona “Green portions on potatoes taste bitter and contain an alkaloid.” On the other hand, according to Purdue University, “sunlight causes a potato to turn green and produce poisonous glycoalkaloids, such as solanine [glycoalkaloid levels of newly released cultivars must be less than 20 mg per 100 g fresh weight to be considered non-poisonous].”

It’s all very schizophrenic, and Department of Homeland Security-ish. Scare me to get my attention, then puzzle and bewilder me into a hypnotic trance. But notwithstanding that Mom was right about the green and sunburn, she was strangely silent on the whole poison issue.

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet, Horticulture and Crop Science, “Growing Potatoes in the Home Garden” HYG-1619-92 contains a worthwhile but confusing information about harvesting and storage that I’m quoting below so I can refer back to this later in the season.

OSU says, on one hand, that potatoes are ready to harvest no sooner than “two weeks after vines have naturally died down” and they add that “this allows the skins to set and reduces skin peeling, bruising and rot in storage.” On the other hand, like Mom, they scoot right on past the suggestion that “When harvesting at temperatures above 80 degrees F, potatoes should be picked up immediately and put in a dark place. Potatoes exposed to sun and high temperatures will turn green and may rot.”

There’s one final mixed message. The first is some seriously negative feedback - particularly after we’ve followed their advice, and cultivated a massive crop – that we should have thought about suitable long-term storage first. “Most homes do not have a suitable place to store potatoes for more than four to six weeks.” D’oh!

Their final advice about harvesting and storing potatoes is sweetly and hopefully generous. “To store potatoes for several months, the tubers should be cured in a dark place at 60 to 65 degrees F and a humidity of 85 percent or higher for 10 days. After the tubers are cured, keep them in a cool (40 to 45 degrees F), dark place with high humidity. Under these conditions most varieties will not sprout for two to three months.” Great tip. I wonder if those specs conform to the conditions inside a Cuban cigar humidor.

So you can see why, when it comes to potatoes - I’m conflicted as Woody Allen.


Matthew Lickona said...

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Thanks - hope to hear from you!
Matthew Lickona

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, short post. I like your unique writing style--the entertaining mixture of your earnest garden exploration coupled with your mom's wisdom in the backdrop. And then of course you provide the slip-ins of university specifications, fact, and a little piece of your conscience mind. Still, in the end, you keep us from eating that poisenous potato! Great job.