Dirt on Gardening

My witch hazels began blooming several weeks ago. The red wing blackbirds and spring peppers are calling from the trees and ponds. The daffodils are sending up green shoots regardless of the temperatures. All of these natural happenings are harbingers of spring.

For the vegetable gardener, witch hazel blossoms, daffodil shoots, and red winged blackbird and spring peeper sounds mean that it’s time to get seed potatoes. Traditionally, seed potatoes are planted around St. Patrick’s Day in the Ozarks. They can be planted when the ground is not too wet to be worked up into hills and when there is no danger of the ground freezing – typically by mid-March.

If you cannot get your potatoes in the ground until the end of March or until early April, it’s okay, too, as long as the seed potatoes are in good condition.

There are many different varieties of potatoes, a vegetable that find ideal conditions when grown in higher latitudes in the U.S. The same exact variety of potato may yield twice as many potatoes in a Maine garden than a Missouri garden. That should not discourage the Ozark gardener, though; a garden-fresh potato tastes dramatically better than the typical spud found on the supermarket shelf.

Heirloom potatoes have also become quite a hit among chefs and culinary arts enthusiasts, and the home gardener can grown their own heirloom variety potatoes at a fraction of the cost they are found on grocery store shelves.

You can also grow your own potatoes according to the way you like to use potatoes in the kitchen. Potatoes have different textures that make them better for using in different ways. These different textures come from two different types of starch – straight and branched.

Potatoes that are high in straight starch will me mealy or floury when cooked, and these are best used for baking, mashing and frying. Swedish Peanut, Yukon Gold and Butte are a few varieties of high straight starch content potatoes.

Potatoes that are high in branched starch hold together firmly when cooked, and these are best in soups and stews, boiled, sautéed or steamed. Onaway, Reddale, All-Blue and Cranberry Red are some varieties of potatoes that are high in branched starch.

Knowing the preferred cooking methods for a potato may help a gardener determine which variety he or she wants to grow. An excellent resource for several varieties of potatoes is Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, Maine. Wood Prairie grows all certified organic seed and table potatoes (yes, you can try out their potatoes in the ready to eat form before buying them to grow in the garden).

If you don’t already have your potatoes ready to grow in the garden, purchase some today. I will cover garden potato care in my next column.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com

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