Ask Judy: What’s going on in the potato patch?

We are banking on a good crop of potatoes this year. Last year’s attack of late blight cut our season short. In order to save the crop we mowed the tops off early (Aug. 13), and successfully harvested and stored a modest quantity of small, but disease-free tubers. This year we planted our seed potatoes (a bit later than most years) with our usual springtime optimism and, knock-on-wood, the crop is looking pretty good so far.
We have hilled them twice, and sprayed them once for the Colorado potato beetle larvae (we use an organic spray called “Entrust”). This week we’ll move irrigation into the field to keep the growth steady in these hot weeks of summer. Blossoms are showing in the Red Norlands, which means that tuber initiation is occurring.
It is critical to the marketing and eating quality of the potatoes that the plants are not stressed by droughty conditions (or flooding) while the young tubers are forming. Stress to the plants at this stage can cause hollow heart, a condition that causes the potatoes to split apart in the center. This internal hole often turns a grayish color, which can be mistaken for deterioration, but with a little trimming, the potato is safe to eat.
It will be another six weeks, a couple of more sprays for ongoing hatches of potato beetles, and irrigation as needed, before we begin the main harvest. Meanwhile, we’ll soon begin digging a few of those early new potatoes for fresh market sales. New potatoes are available at the farmers’ market these days, sold by the quart or by the pound.
In your own gardens it’s time to scratch around in the hills and look for a meals’ worth of small potatoes to “rob” from the plants. Just gently pull them from the roots, a couple from each plant, and close the hill back up with soil. Boil these tender little gems and add some cooked fresh shelled peas, butter, a splash of milk and some salt for a delicious meal of new potato and peas.

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