The suspense of growing potatoes: why resisting a sneak peek is futile
There's nothing like the pulse-quickening thrill of the first time you grow a new plant. It might be my favorite kind of gardening. Or perhaps I prefer the tried and trues, the varieties I know are going to deliver the goods come August. It's hard to say.
All I know is I can’t resist the gambler’s rush that comes with placing a totally new seed in the earth. You're rolling the dice. You don't know what success even looks like. But you're eager to see how the story unfolds.
That's the excitement I'm currently experiencing as I attempt to grow potatoes. Yes, potatoes: the most popular vegetable, like, ever. In 2017, Americans ate, on average, 49.2 pounds of them, according to the USDA. (Tomatoes came in second at 28.7 pounds).
Yet, strangely enough, potatoes never occurred to me as a garden crop. Until March — when I got a sudden urge to grow as many calories as possible.
I’ve found — for a gardener who has focused mostly on salsa, zoodles, and giant pumpkins — potatoes are a whole new ballgame.
For starters, the potatoes themselves are your seeds. In early spring, just place your favorite grocery store variety in a dark spot in the back of your pantry or basement, and — voila — you've started the sprouting process. In a couple weeks, they'll be a little scarier-looking and seemingly worse for the wear. The shiver up your spine means they’re ready for planting.
With smaller potatoes, like the fingerlings I'm growing thanks to my friend Jeff, you can place the entire vegetable, eyes up, in a 6-8-inch-deep trench. Space them at least a foot apart in rows that are 3 feet apart. With bigger potatoes, you can cut them into smaller pieces before planting.
From there, the spuds do all their growing outside of view. Where the sun don't shine. Over the next few weeks and months, shin-high plants emerge. The leaves are green, soft, and feel more moist than, say, the leaves of a tomato or squash plant. You almost want to run the backs of your fingers along their tops.
If the plants find a cozy home in well-drained soil, receive plenty of sun, and get a few good soakings a week, each starchy chunk of tater can produce 10 to 20 more potatoes. How cool is that?
I'm a couple months into this process. It’s June. The other day, I couldn't resist taking a sneak peek. I found myself kneeling beneath the proverbial Christmas tree, ready to delicately pull aside the wrapping paper so that the scotch tape would appear undisturbed.
I needed to check the potatoes' progress, I reasoned. I was just pushing aside a little dirt...
I squealed. Like, full-on let out a prolonged squeal and probably did that hand-shaking thing that accompanies squeals.
The baby potatoes were sooooo cute!!! All the heart eyes. All the heart gifs.
Liberated from the dirt but still attached by little umbilical cords to their mama potato, I got a glimpse of their chubby cheeks. I wanted to squeeze them, cuddle them, eat them up.
Actually, now that I'm thinking of babies: The whole potato family looked like one of those mobiles you dangle above an infant's crib.
Different sizes of baby potatoes hung at different lengths, creating a scene capable of captivating an adult deep into her 30s — one who has enjoyed a lifetime of french fries.
Check out these photos of what I discovered. And stay tuned for my (most likely breathless) report on the main event — the eventual harvest.