U.S.A., Washington State. USDA zone 8b. Sunset climate zone 5

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Back To Potatoes!

I never thought I would grow potatoes again! Not that I don't like them. I love them. I love them fried, baked, grilled, whole, sliced, mashed, skin on and skinless... It's just we used to grow them not for fun, but for food. It was a chore. As kids, we helped adults plant, weed, earth potatoes, pick them up, prepare for storage, etc. As students, we used to go to collective farms to help with potato harvesting and sorting. Most colleges in the Soviet Union sent their first and second year students to the farms following orders from local authorities. We knew we'd go to the countryside for a month if we got accepted in a college. Don't be quick to feel sorry for us: the education was free! Wait for the time when your kid will go to college, and tuition becomes a harsh reality. Then, a month of not-so-hard work in the fresh air with a bunch of their peers won't look so bad. We had fun! We worked, we laughed, we sang and had enough energy to go dancing after work. Nevertheless, we would gladly skip that duty if we could!

Back to potatoes. They are a staple in the Russian cuisine. We can not live without them. What do I remember about growing potatoes back then? We never watered them. We knew that they like sandy soil. The first question asked by people buying potatoes at the market was: what soil do you grow them in? Cultivation included one weeding - soon after the green tops would appear and two earthings - piling soil on the both sides of the rows.

On the sidebar of my blog, there is a picture of potatoes.

It's true what I say under it - I have no idea how one potato plant appeared on my raised bed. When I saw it for the first time, I was sure it was a potato plant, but where did it come from? I suspect it came with the soil in one of the pots with seedlings from the market. What was amazing was that I never saw it blooming! When I decided to pull it out to discard, to my great surprise, it had a bunch of good-size, firm nice potatoes!

Next year, there were two plants on the same spot. I didn't turn over the soil in that corner of the bed and probably some little potatoes got left over the winter and grew up!

Again, there were no flowers! There should be flowers! It's still a mystery for me.
This year, I didn't plan to plant potatoes. It happened that a Costco bag of fingerling potatoes was too big for us to eat fast, and they started to sprout.

Well, I just poked them in the free space on the raised bed. Now, I know it wasn't wise - too little soil to earth them.

But, we'll see what we get. Then, we had several red potatoes from the grocery store that started sprouting.

To throw them away? To compost? Well, after reading several posts about growing potatoes in bags, the boys and I planted them in a burlap sack and in a black plastic pot. Experiment!

The history of potatoes is amazing! Originated in South America, they didn't have an easy way to get into European and New World cuisine. Often called a ground nut, they were grown under the order of kings and emperors, and planted with guard enforcement together with some educational propaganda. In Russia, they are associated with Peter The Great and in Germany with Frederick the Great.

I like this story:
" In France the potato was imposed upon society by an intellectual. Antoine Augustine Parmentier saw that the nutritional benefits of the crop combined with its productive capacity could be a boon to the French farmer. He was a pharmacist, chemist and employee of Louis XV. Parmentier discovered the benefits of the potato while held prisoner by the Prussians during the Seven Years War. He was so enamored by the potato that he determined that it should become a staple of the French diet. After failing by conventional means to convince Frenchmen of its advantages, he determined upon a surreptitious means of making his point.Parmentier acquired a miserable and unproductive spot of ground on the outskirts of Paris. There, he planted 50 acres of potatoes. During the day, he set a guard over it. This drew considerable attention in the neighborhood. In the evening the guard was relaxed and the locals came to see what all the fuss was about. Believing this plant must be valuable, many peasants "acquired" some of the potatoes from the plot, and soon were growing the root in their own garden plots. Their resistance was overcome by their curiosity and desire to better their lot with the obviously valuable new produce."
(from ).
Good information about potato history can be found here

By the way, we have baked potatoes tonight for dinner.

Vincent Van Gogh . The Potato-Eaters


  1. Tatyana, I have never grown potatoes until now. A friend had some sprouting fingerling potatoes sitting on her counter. I told her she should grow them. I came home with a bag of the fingerlings to grow myself. I am happy to report, they are doing well and I should have my first crop of fingerlings this year.

  2. Nice post Tatyana.Very informative! My pototoes are always going to sprout, next time I'll plant some.

  3. I have tried and failed to grow potatoes year after year. This year, I got potatoes. Yeah. Maybe next year I will have accidental potatoes too.

  4. The raised garden potato mystery. Really makes ya wonder huh? That is very interesting. I guess a student or parent wouldn't complain, like you said, to pay that price for college.
    Potatoes are my weakness too. I just love them but they don't love me - but then what does anymore. LOL A very informative post. Especially the part about growing them and no water.

  5. I am a potato nut also. Love em any way I can get them.

    Especially the blue varieties.


  6. Very informative post! My hubby wants to grow potatoes but I didn't think we could do it because our soil is fairly sandy - but after reading your post I should give it a try. -Jackie

  7. Another great post. I am the son of a green grocer and was always amazed how many different varieties there were. The Russians sound a bit like the Irish in having the potatoe as a staple crop.

  8. AnonymousMay 12, 2009

    I too have purchased those fingerlings from Costco. It's a challenge eating them all before they sprout. It will be interesting to see how yours do. I hope you'll post and update.

    Interesting psychology Parmentier used to get people interested in potatoes.

  9. Hi Tatyana

    It cracked me up the first time I read about your spuds on your sidebar!

    Isn't Van Gogh's painting just one of his best.


  10. Great Post Tatyana, I have to try planting pototoes this year and see how it comes out. I love pototoes too!

  11. I look forward to reading your posts. This is a great one on potatoes. Our staple foods all have a very real, very interesting connection to world history. The potato connection is a very interesting one--and you are able to make it interesting reading. Love that!

  12. Как ты вкусно про картошку написала. А у меня вчера на ужин тоже была печёная картошка.
    Француз, однако, молодец. У нас же, как всегда, всё новое вводилось силой - даже любимая картошечка меньше двух веков назад в России вызывала "картофельные бунты". Сегодня расскажи кому, пыхтящих в своих огородах и засаживая половину площади картофелем, - и не поверят.
    Я сажаю совсем немного - только чтобы свеженькой поесть. Есть такой рецепт "по-пушкински", когда молодой картофель вместе с тоненькой кожуркой укладывается в горшок, где растоплено масло, ставится в печь потомиться - получается такая вкуснятина!!!

  13. Oh, how odd, this story of your mystery potatoes! I don't think I've ever met one person that didn't like potatoes.

  14. I am growing potatoes myself for the first time!! I was weeding a few days ago and accidentally unearthed the top of a nice red plump potato. I can't wait to harvest them! I understand I have to wait until the plant dies before we dig them up... Is that right?>

  15. Very interesting story. I never manage to grow potatoes, it must be nice to see you holding that huge potato on your hand, and it is an organic one!

  16. Great post. Michael Pollan has a chapter in his book "Botany of Desire" on the potato and its importance to the Irish. They first became familiar with it in the late 1500s and realized they could produce a lot of food on a small amount of land and as Pollan put it "Now they could feed themselves off the economic grid ruled by the English..." And of course, it later impacted the US when Irish flocked here during the great famine. I haven't ever grown them - except in a glass of water as a school project - maybe I should try.

  17. I don't know why I've never thought of planting the potatoes that sprout. I think I'm going to do that next time. Thanks for the great idea!


  18. AnonymousMay 14, 2009

    Wow Tatyana, great potatoes post! Now I know much more fully the history of the rogue potatoes, and I'm not so scared for you now (in terms of rogue invasions into your garden!)
    I was thinking of trying some potatoes just as you describe - they have sprouted in the bag and it seems a shame to throw them away. It worked for you so I think I will try it.
    Thanks for this post!
    Plant Lady

  19. Thank you everyone for your kind comments! I have this feeling that the first, "mystery", potatoes will be always better that those which I plant myself!

    Jennifer, it'll be fun to compare what we get from our fingerlings!

    Claire, do it!

    Debbie, this is exactly what I mean - accidents bring better results than planned actions, sometimes. Good luck!

    Linda, I wonder about the water myself. But we just didn't have a lot of water for gardens available.I think, potatoes get the needed moisture from the mother fruit and then, there are always some rains.

    Jen, what is that blue type? I know red, white... let's say brown, but what do you call blue? Interesting...

    Jackie, try and tell us about the results! Although, maybe different types of potatoe might like different types of soil? Will see!

    Hermes, I never knew about the Irish love for potatoes. Hmmm, it could be the reason why St.Patrick day is becoming popular in Russia!

    Grace, I'll post about my harvest. Doubt that it'll be great, too small space. But who knows!

    Rob - yes, you were the first person who asked that question!

    Cathy, I will wait for your post!

    Mlc, I think you are right - there is a story behind all the major foods!

    Вольдемар, спасибо! А нельзя поподробнее о той картошечке - сколько масла, что еще добавить? Хочу попробовать. Нет ничего вкуснее молоденькой картошки!

    Brenda, I still try to figure out how I got that plant! It should be the soil! I don't think it came with my compost...

    Kara, yes - we need to wait till the green tops turn to brown and wilt. Before that, you can pick several potatoes from under the each bush, because the young small potatoes taste the best! Then, just move the soil back to cover remaining potatoes. We don't want to expose them to the light to make them green (green part is poisonous).

    Vuejardin,you bet! I was so excited to hold that huge potato!

    Barbara, you are right - the history of potato is so interesting! I think many countries have their own stories. Potato in a glass of water? Wow! Should I try this experiment with my boys?

    Cindy, I've never thought about it myself, till this spring!

    Plant Lady, it will be fun to read the posts of the gardeners who tried to grow those not-eaten-in-time potatoes, we might have a blog-conference on that subject!

  20. Татьяна, рецепт прост: отбирается молодой некрупный (а лучше даже мелкий) картофель - примерно около полкило-килограмма, как следует отмывается, но осторожно, чтобы не повредить тонкую кожицу. В горшке (для печи) или в плоской стеклянной посудине (если в духовке) растопляется почти до кипения пачка масла (у нас брикетики грамм по 200, наверное, точно не знаю) и в это закипающее масло складывается картофель. Не солю, чтобы хранил форму. Вот и всё. Всё это томится до готовности.
    Говорят, что такую картошечку любил Пушкин, поэтому и называют её картофелем по-пушкински:-) Подают к нему сметану и зелень.
    Я к этому рецепту делаю свою добавку, конечно же :-) Когда картофель уже почти готов (это я исключительно по запаху определяю:-), я вливаю в него такую смесь: в стакане молока тщательно размешиваю чайную ложечку муки, добавляю хорошую горсть мелко-мелко-мелко порубленной зелени петрушки и немного соли. Заливаю всё это в горшок и даю ещё минуток пять-десять потомиться в печи или духовке.
    Ещё один момент - глиняный горшок перед готовкой заливаю полностью водой и даю часик постоять - тогда в нём картошечка не пересыхает.
    Вот такое простое и умопомрачительное по вкусноте блюдо. К нему готовлю зелёный салатик с растительным маслом - из любой любимой зелени, имеющейся в этот момент на грядке, и овощей.

  21. Hi Tatyana, what a delightful post! I loved the french story too, but thought it was going to end with french fries! HA This is our first time ever for growing potatoes, little red ones from our neighbor. We have mounded more soil over them twice and there is just the beginning of a flower bud showing. When do we harvest them?

  22. Frances, this is funny: when my husband finished reading the post, he said the same - there should be french fries at the end!
    Harvest potatoes when all the tops turn from green to brown and wilt.They stop growing at that point. Don't leave potatoes under the sun or in any light place for more than two hours, they will start turning green, and green part is poisonous. Don't compost the tops to avoid possible diseases. I like young small potatoes. We used to move away some soil, pick up 2-3 potatoes from each bush and leave the rest to grow bigger, then move the soil back. There always should be enough soil to protect potatoes from the sun. Before yours, there is a comment with a recepie, how to cook young potatoes, from my Russian friend. I think I need to translate and post it, don't you think so?

  23. Вольдемар, исстрадалась пока читала, как же ты реалистично все изложил! Хоть собирай чемодан и лети к тебе на свежую картошку! Разреши, пожалуйста, рецепт перевести и поместить на блоге.
    Спасибо огромное!

  24. :-) Конечно-конечно, мне будет приятно, если это появится здесь и в английской версии.

  25. An excellent read! I come from potato farmers, too...via Ireland! It's amazing but a potato plant grew in my leaf mulch...I think i dropped it in there when i was adding stuff to the compost pile. They want to grow and we can't stop them! Gail

  26. Tatyana, kids and I just grow potato plants on the kitchen counter for fun when they develop eyes from the pantry..I've never put them in the ground for harvest as I don't want to use up space from my beloved perennials. What a fun surprise to find them in your beds! I love the Yukon Gold variety and now you make want a big ol' baked potato with all the!

  27. I LOVE potatoes! They would be my desert-island food. Your post has made me want to grow potatoes. I have only accidentally grown them a couple of times when I was trying to compost them, never grown them on purpose.
    BTW - I came here from IBOY's blog: An Iowa Garden.

  28. I think you're supposed to have potatoes that's why the first ones showed up?? Do you think? Considering how important it sounds like they were growing up? I think I could live off potatoes. I love them every which way too. As a kid tho, I wasn't fond of rubbing the dirt off them to prepare for winter storage. It took us several days and was a chore I didn't look forward to. Have a great weekend and thanks for the interesting background.

  29. An inspiring post,you make it sound so easy. Another interesting fact about potatoes is that the green bits are poisonous. I have always heard that but never heard of anyone who got poisoned. have you?

  30. Yes to translating the recipe! :-)


  31. Кстати, тут на досуге порылся в рунете и нашёл подтверждение своему рассказу:-)
    "В письме жене от 30 октября 1833 года, присланного из Болдина, поэт описывает свой обычный день: «Просыпаюсь в семь часов, пью кофей и лежу до трех часов. Недавно расписался и уже написал пропасть. В три часа сажусь верхом, в пять в ванну и потом обедаю картофелем да гречневой кашей. До девяти часов - читаю. Вот тебе мой день, и все на одно лицо». А готовили картофель поэту по-особенному, в кулинарных книгах есть даже специальный рецепт – «картофель по-пушкински». Его готовят так: берут маленькие, идеальные картофелины без глазков, повреждений и ссадин. Тщательно отмывают и ни в коем случае не чистят. Затем сырыми, « в мундирах», кладут в обливной глиняный горшок, в котором предварительно разогревают почти до кипения топленое масло. Затем картофель томят либо в русской печи, либо в духовке, либо в горячих углях. Перед подачей на стол добавляют сметану и немного зелени."
    Это вот здесь -
    интересная статеечка:-) Там, кстати, для иллюстрации тоже эта работа Ван Гога приводится:-)

  32. Tatyana, I loved this post about potatoes. As a good German girl, I learned to love potatoes :-)

    Maybe I'll give them a try here this year.


  33. Вольдемар, спасибо огромное! Как время подойдет копать первую картошку, так я рецепт и помещу. Конечно, и вкус у картошки здешней другой, и масло не то, что было в те времена, но попробовать стоит!

  34. Come see my little potatoes!! :) Thanks for the tips- I'm sure I would have waited too long to dig them up if I hadn't asked for your help!


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