potato harvest

How are we celebrating the Fourth of July up in Bernal? We’re harvesting the tater bucket! You might recall, back in the early, chilly days of spring, right around St Patrick’s Day, a handful of ugly sprouting potatoes were thrown face-down in a bucket of dirt, given their chance for producing the next generation. And now, the resulting crop of new potatoes has been dug up, rinsed, steamed, browned in butter and chives, and eaten.

To be true red-white-and-blue homesteaders, we could have whisked up some homemade mayonnaise and made all-American potato salad. But the patio potatoes were too few, and too precious, for that. They needed to be appreciated just for their dainty little selves.

potato dish

You might be saying to yourself, wow, those sure are some small potatoes. And it’s true. The original potatoes planted were fingerlings, which are naturally small, but these are rather petite even for those.

What happened was, alas, a fungal infection of some kind. Might have been early blight, might have been a wilt like fusarium. All of a sudden, about a month ago, the lovely healthy leaves got brown-spotted one by one. The brown turned to yellow, and eventually the whole stem got limp and died. The brown turned to yellow, and eventually each cluster of leaves faded and died while the stem below the soil line rotted. And once the leaves were gone, the pizza delivery to the potatoes stopped, so to speak, and so did their growth.

These, then, were my teenage potatoes, kicked out of the nest a little young. I think it was partly my fault, due to some overwatering that probably spurred the blight’s progression, since fungal diseases are spread and exacerbated by moisture.

Luckily, though, this happened pretty far along in the tater-growing process, meaning we still got a few good handfuls. And there is something pretty wonderful about harvesting your own dinner–not just picking a few tomatoes or plucking a little basil but plunging your whole arm past the elbow into a bucket of warm dirt, fishing around for what slender gold treasures might be hiding in there. These were true new potatoes, fresh and moist, their skins tattered off merely by washing. Not to mention really, really delicious, if I say so myself.

potato stemAnd just in case you were wondering what a potato looks like when it’s still growing, well, it looks like this, only deep in the dirt. You can see that the potato itself isn’t a root, like carrots or beets, but rather a stolen, or swollen stem, branching off from the main stem above the roots.

Since most potatoes take about 100 days from sprouting to harvest, there’s still time for another crop before the winter wet weather comes on. Will tater bucket #2 be more successful? Stay tuned!

Photos by Sally Carter

Patio Potato Farming: The Harvest 4 July,2009Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen


Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is a longtime local food writer, author, and cook. Her books include The Art of Vintage Cocktails (Egg & Dart Press), World of Doughnuts (Egg & Dart Press); Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams Sonoma); Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press). She has studied organic farming at UCSC and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She does frequent cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets and has taught food writing at Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Continuing Education program at Stanford University. She has been the lead restaurant critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian as well as for San Francisco magazine. She has been an assistant chef at the Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists’ residency program located in the Marin Headlands, and a production cook at the Marin Sun Farms Cafe in Pt Reyes Station. After some 20 years in San Francisco interspersed with stints in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, she recently moved to Sonoma county but still writes in San Francisco several days a week.

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