It’s happening in favorite grocery stores and pantries around Baja Arizona. Potatoes are awakening! Some are even turning green with chlorophyll showing in their skins. They know. Time in the low desert to PLANT POTATOES–soon!!–while the weather is chilly and while we are enjoying fantastic soil moisture.
Tia Marta here to share a neat trick taught to me by ace heirloom gardener Tom Swain. Planting potatoes doesn’t have to be a big deal, not expensive nor time-consuming, nor does it require special “seed potatoes,” no sacrificing luscious chunks of whole potatoes that you would rather eat. With planting potatoes you can “have your potato cake and eat it too!”
The simple trick is to peel your potatoes to include an “eye” in each peel, the anatomical “action spots” where new life can generate (not hard to find eyes). Knife-peeling may work better for this than with a potato-peeler. Compost the bad-looking peelings but save the healthy ones to a flat-bottom dish. Keep the peelings fresh and damp to sprout by rinsing and draining daily, leaving a little water around them, until you have time to dig a garden trench for planting.
Potato plants (Solanum tuberosum) store their life-energy in starchy nodules–potatoes– that form at the tips of modified underground stems or rhizomes. Green potato skins happen when potatoes are exposed to light–so store potatoes in a dark place. Avoid eating any green skins of potatoes as they are very bitter and may become toxic. Better to use green peelings for planting.
Keep a pile of good garden soil at the ready. As your young plants emerge from the soil, gradually, gently, keep burying them, or top-dressing them with compost, over their days and weeks of growth to encourage the underground stems to continuously elongate, thereby adding space for more and more potatoes to form. Try never to let a little potato get exposed to the sun. As your plants grow, and as you cover them, your trench will fill, then hopefully it will even become a linear mound full of small potatoes by late spring. Don’t forget to water regularly as rains diminish. They need cold or cool weather for best growth, so get them into the ground by end of January at the latest. You could start them as soon as November’s cool weather sets in. Plan ahead to protect your potatoes from excavating ground squirrels, rock squirrels or packrats.
Tia Marta’s Scalloped Potatoes Recipe with variations
Into a pyrex dish, slice 6-8 partly peeled potatoes (Skins are nutritious!). Add 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese, 1+ tsp sea salt, garlic powder and/or black pepper to taste, and milk (soy or rice milk OK) 1-2cups to barely cover potatoes. As additional seasoning options add 2 Tbsp Mano y Metate Mole mix, 1 Tbsp parsley, and/or 1 tsp paprika. Mix, Cover and Bake at 325 F for ca.45 minutes until all ingredients are happily melded. [For solar-oven cooking use dark saucepan and dark lid.]. Don’t burn your tongue when you serve them piping hot–and do enjoy the fruits of your potato-labors!
Tia Marta is an artist, ethnobotanist, and teacher about Baja Arizona’s gastronomic history and prehistory. Her heirloom foods and/or “foodie” notecards can be found at NativeSeedsSEARCH, Tohono Chul Park, the Presidio Museum, Old Town Artisans, Arizona State Museum on UA Campus, Tucson Museum of Art, the UNICEF Store, and online at www.flordemayoarts.com. Catch one of her Native Foods workshops at Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace’s Mission Garden, or join her downtown Gastronomy Tour at Tucson Presidio. Coming up soon!–Join us to view her traditional foods artwork at the ArtTrails Open Studio Tour on Tucson’s West Side, Saturday and Sunday February 2-3, 10am-4pm both days. For directions see the centerfold in Zocalo, the Desert Leaf calendar, or go to www.ArtTrails.org. See you there!