Thursday, March 10, 2011

Help, the potatoes are here!

So you're busily ordering seeds and other garden items back in January, and seed potatoes* are on your list, so you order some, and when it comes to checkout you're asked when you want them delivered?  And you blithely check off "March" because you'll certainly be ready to put them in, oh, in mid-to-late March, right? Definitely.  And then they arrive on March first.  Or, in this case, March ninth, when even my own garden is not nearly ready for planting, and the demo garden where some of the potatoes are going will have no Master Gardener volunteers working until April.  What to do?  Panic?

No, of course not.  I didn't even panic all that much when, a few years back, I neglected to specify when I wanted onion plants delivered, and the grower in Texas shipped them in February.  Sorry, whatever your regional shipping guidelines say, Maryland really isn't the South.  I don't care where the Mason-Dixon line is; I am not putting onion plants out in the snow.  So I potted them up in a big planter and stuck it under a window in the mudroom for a month until it was warm and dry enough outside to plant.  They did fine.

So, storing potatoes for a month isn't too much of a challenge.  I've opened the bags to allow good air circulation, and am storing them in a cool dark room.  When we're getting close to planting time, I'll bring them out into real room temperature to wake up a bit.  They may sprout a little, but that's not a problem.  In fact, pre-sprouting on purpose is recommended to get the plants off to a faster start.  Here are the pre-sprouting instructions I received with my package from the Maine Potato Lady:

"About 4-6 weeks before planting, warm the seed in a dark area for about two weeks.  Then spread the tubers out in flats or crates in a single layer, and store in a warm medium-lighted place (but out of direct sunlight) for another 2-4 weeks.  The warmth triggers the bud end to produce sprouts, and the medium light keeps the sprouts short and stubby."

I'm not even sure I have time to do that!  So getting potatoes early is no big deal.  And if you haven't even ordered your potatoes yet, better hurry while you still have a good selection at your source of choice.  Don't plant potatoes from the grocery store:  they may have been treated with anti-sprouting chemicals, and they are not guaranteed disease-free.

Red Maria (large), Purple Sun (medium), and Red Thumb (small)

*"Seed" potatoes are not really seeds but tubers that sprout from "eyes" and grow new plants.  Potatoes do produce seeds; if you've ever seen a potato plant grow something that looks like a small green tomato after flowering, that (inedible) fruit contains true seeds.  You can experiment with creating new varieties by planting these.

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