This (Local Organic) Spud’s for You!

 

DSCN9563(This is a blog I wrote for Stacey Fokas’ Freshalicious website)

Potatoes are one of the most versatile vegetables in our culture.  We boil them, bake them, mash them, hash them, stuff them, fry them and steam them.  Although they have been an agricultural staple since the 1800′s in North America, they have been grown in Peru and Bolivia since 8000 to 5000 BC.

Fast forward to present day, and think about how many varieties of potatoes you see in your local grocery store.  The common ones seem to be Yukon Gold, Russets,  Chieftain Red, and Netta Gems.  According to the SpudSmart website, “Statistics Canada’s production estimates for 2013 peg the total planted potato acreage in Canada at 361,600 acres.” And although there are close to 5000 potato varieties in the world (3000 of which are grown in the Andes alone!), here in North America, we grow 60 – 80 varieties.

As with all plants, different varieties have different attributes:  some potatoes are better suited to baking, some will store better over the winter, some are more resistant to blight and other diseases.  Which brings me to my next point….

Commercial growers plant large acreages, and are dedicated to growing only potatoes.  The fields are often planted with potatoes one year, and then with a cover crop, such as rye, the next. Crop rotation can be very useful in reducing the risk of fungus diseases and blight, and only a one year break without potatoes isn’t enough time for pathogens in the soil to disperse.

When seed potatoes are planted in the ground, they have been coated with combinations of fungicide and insecticide.  As they grow through the various stages, more insecticides and pesticides may need to be applied.  The more intense the farming, the more disease and insect pressure there will be, and the more spraying. This past summer, we observed the various spray applications that were done on a local potato field nearby.  It’s no wonder that many commercial growers will not eat the very potatoes they are growing (read more here).   Some farms in the United States will use 20 applications of chemicals.

There are many tips for growing potatoes organically, to eliminate the need for these chemicals.   It can be done. The larger the fields and growing operations, however, the harder it becomes.

We’ve always grown our own potatoes.  We plant them after the last frost, and need to keep them “hilled up” as the potatoes start to develop underground.  Our local garden beetlecentre offered at least 8 different varieties this spring.  Combined with the seed potatoes we saved from last year’s crop, we had about six or seven different kinds in the garden this year.

The most time consuming part (aside from digging them up in the early fall) is to keep vigilant for Colorado potato beetles.  These prolific insects usually appear early summer, as the plants are ready to start flowering.  Rather than using a fungicide dust, we prefer to pick them off by hand, keeping on the lookout for the eggs they lay on the leaves’ undersides, and the larvae, too,  not just the adults.

When it comes time to dig up the potatoes, we look forward to seeing what we will be harvesting.  Because they grow underground, there is no real way to know what kind of yields we will be getting.  And because we grow many different varieties, it’s fun to see what colour the next potato plant in the garden will be!

 

I encourage everyone to grow a few plants in their gardens next year.   In the meanwhile, the best place to source the tastiest, healthiest potatoes is at your local farmers’ market, or small farm stand.  Take the opportunity to find out what the growing practices were, ie. whether they used fungicides or sprayed their crops for insects.  You may find unusual varieties there, too. Local and organic is always the best way to go!

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Julie! hail to organic potatoes! when I read an article recently about a conventional potato farmer who hunkers down in an airtight garage to spray the chemicals through the watering system, I thought, geez, my gramma, a potato farmer from Germany, would be shocked! Even the farmer knows what harm the chemicals cause…..thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply

    • Hi Margaret, how nice to hear from you again!
      I really feel that most consumers are completely unaware of how many chemicals may potentially be used with the “common” potato. Hopefully, this blog will spark some awareness and they will start looking into the taters they are tasting! Happy fall to you 🙂

      Reply

  2. Reblogged this on Windy Field Farms and commented:

    It’s that time of the year again…potato harvest!

    Reply

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