Friday, March 28, 2014

Garlic Shank Potatoes

Fridays have become a kind of domestic day this semester, often abetted by the promise of rain or cold. Things missed or avoided during the hectic work week are tackled, sometimes. A blog post, push harder on those taxes (they are complicated by farming), cook a little. Clean? Heck.

Beef shanks from Lowland Farm sprinkled with some of Hudson Clove garlic. Into the pan went the remaining braising sauce, frozen, from the two weeks prior pork hocks.

On garlic, I've come around to narrowing my choices for variety on the farm. Silverskin strains are in. They are small-cloved and less vigorous in the field, but they hold into the spring. Sure, some desiccate and some soften, but I've always managed to keep plenty well into May. I do this without any special storage conditions. Of course, fifty five to sixty degrees F and forty to fifty percent humidity would be ideal, yet I've kept mine in the studio where the humidity was glued to twenty five percent and the temperatures fluctuated from 70 through 90 this winter. I decided a month ago to bring them home where it was cooler with shifting levels of moisture. Still, most of the garlic has not sprouted or dried out. In other words -this is garlic to grow.

I learned something new about potatoes this winter. I had made the decision to buy only organic potatoes because conventionally grown are systemically treated with pesticides and fungicides. To keep prices in check I had been buying organic red, gold, and russets in three or five pound sacks. Here's what I learned -I shouldn't buy large quantities of potatoes beginning mid February because they'll sprout almost immediately. Shouldn't come as a surprise as garlic has a similar tendency, although I'm not at all familiar with the change of conditions required to promote potato budding and rooting. One bag of organic red and another of organic russets from two different farms (Colorado and California) sprouted within days to a week, so from now on, unless I will use them immediately, I will only buy individual potatoes after February.

So what to do with ten pounds of sprouting reds and russets? Against all proper advice, I think I will plant them at the beach farm. I've propped them in a window and will make a bed for them soon. The only concern is that these are not certified seed potatoes. Much like garlic, it is not common practice to grow potatoes from seed. This isn't because they do not produce seed, as is the case with garlic, but because potato seeds are highly erratic hybridizers, producing an incredible range of potato characteristics from sexual reproduction. This is a great trait if your a potato, but lousy if you are a farmer. So, like garlic, potatoes are propagated vegetatively.

Planting potato tubers is reliable and convenient but it also increases the chance of introducing disease organisms to the soil. Certified seed stock potatoes are grown and harvested, a selected lot then shipped off to a warmer climate (often Florida) and grown out for disease inspection all before the spring planting season. A farm's potatoes can be certified seed stock only if a great percentage of those potatoes growth-tested show no signs of significantly harmful diseases. When you plant store bought, organic food potatoes (conventionally grown potatoes may have been treated with growth inhibitors), there is always a risk of disease. I've discarded any damaged tubers and will plant only the healthy looking ones. No matter where you get your potatoes, there is always risk of disease. Let your level of caution be your guide.


  1. I buy potatoes in small lots now because they certainly always start sprouting if I buy them in kilo size bags. Have never thought that potatoes were sprayed with pesticides and fungicides, I'll look for organic from now on. By the way, I am loving your posts.

    1. I appreciate that Cindy. Yes yes conventionally grown potatoes have formidable pests. Conventional growers spray pesticides and fumigate with fungicides.


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