This year, we decided to try growing potatoes. The potatoes turned out to be surprisingly different from our other plants.
Potatoes are ozone-sensitive, but there are also potatoes that have been bred to resist ozone. We planted both sensitive and resistant potatoes to display more evidence of the effects of ozone in our garden. Plus, we can eat the potatoes after they are harvested.
We started with some whole potatoes, as well as some smaller pieces (each piece containing at least one “eye”). When planting potatoes, you want the eyes facing up to help guide the sprouts. Some of the potatoes had roots already developing. The roots are thick, fuzzy, and purple! Some of the roots looked like the legs of a spider.
We placed the potatoes in a long trench about a foot deep. You plant the potatoes with the roots facing up! Then, as they grow, you have to keep soil mounded on top so the tubers are not exposed to light, as this exposure may turn them green and increase concentrations of bitter (and toxic) compounds which are found in other parts of the plant.
As part of the root system of the plant, potatoes grow below the soil. You want to harvest the potatoes when the plants die (usually in August). You have to stop watering them a couple days before harvest and dig them up when the soil is dry. This is to prevent rotting. Months after we planted them, we dug up the plants, and found fresh potatoes.
Digging was a delicate process since we didn’t want to damage any potatoes. Using an ordinary shovel, we began by digging underneath the entire root system and turning over the plants (one at a time). Next, we used a smaller hand shovel to gently prod the soil clumps attached to the plant. This part makes us feel like archaeologists digging for valuable artifacts. Our prize is dazzling: striking purple hues gleaming from the soil! There were a few dozen potatoes in all, the majority of which were a delightful, vibrant purple color. Lengths ranged from 1 to as much as 6 inches. It was a nice haul, considering what we started with. We don’t wash the potatoes with water, because “dirty” potatoes ironically stay fresh longer.
Written by Miriam Sachs and Joshua Pringle