F.A. Farm

  (Ferndale, Washington)
Postmodern Agriculture - Food With Full Attention
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Potato Blight and the New Potato Solution

I have already dug over 400 pounds of potatoes this year. Most were sold, but I am also saving drops for seed potatoes and storing some for our own use. Last year, I started storage in mid-June and we finished off our storage potatoes just as I began harvesting new potatoes on June 6th. I like to eat new potatoes and I often say, "I never met a potato I didn't like." (With apologies to Will Rogers.) The downside to new potatoes is that you are stealing poundage from your crop. In other words, if you get a pound of new potatoes now, you could have had two pounds in September or October. However, I always plant way too many potatoes and have never been able to sell all my potatoes anyway. This year, I actually got 127 pounds of Bintjes (a very nice, productive Dutch yellow potato) from an 80-foot row (1.59 pounds per row foot), and they were all harvested in June. This is an outstanding yield for new potatoes, especially since my overall yield last year was 1.14 pounds per row foot. So, new potatoes are an early, tasty and nutritious addition to my CSA boxes and my diet.

Another thing I have been thinking about is late blight. I don't have it and I dutifully rotate my potato crops year to year. I also have 4 varieties out of my 20 varieties that are blight resistant. These varieties are Chieftains, Nicola, Island Sunshine and Desiree. However, if I remember my history correctly, the late blight that devastated Ireland's potato crops from 1845-1849 showed up via aerial transmission in August. The problem back then was that the Lumper, the variety most poor people were growing, is not edible until October. Thus the Irish crofter could not eat new potatoes. So, if a person is worried about late blight, the problem can be mitigated by harvesting some of your crop as new potatoes. Storage is not really a problem, even with the sensitive skins, as they will cure in storage. You just cannot stack them in layers inside your boxes. I have plentiful room in the canning room and an abundance of recycled banana boxes which I use for my CSA program. Any cool, semi-dry place would do for curing.

Integrated pest management (IPM) emphasizes knowing the pest cycle. If Phytophthora infestans is not active until August, there is a 2-month window for harvesting potatoes before the blight hits. For the home gardener worried about late blight, new potatoes provide an easy solution. An early 65 day potato like Bintje or Satina produce very tasty spuds and they store well. Socking away 400 pounds for a family before August is cheap insurance. Then, if you have no problems, you just rotate your stock as you eat your potatoes. My customers like getting 2 different kinds of potatoes each week and I eat them about every other day, year-round.

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