HOW DID A PLANT FROM THE ANDES turn itself into an international star, and the world’s most-eaten vegetable, with more than 300 million metric tons consumed a year? Celebrate the humble but adaptable potato, Solanum tuberosum, with tips on growing, harvesting, and most of all storing, in case your harvest is in need of a winter home any week now:
Yes, the potato has gone truly global; the intricate story of its journey through the centuries is probably best told by the International Potato Center.
China, and now India, are the biggest producers of potatoes today–once the claim of Europe, North America and the former Soviet Union–though I am hard-pressed to think of a Chinese dish featuring them.
I COULDN’T SAY IT BETTER THAN the Farm Security Administration did to farmers and would-be farmers in the 1942 slides I borrowed from the Library of Congress (below). Potatoes, perhaps counter-intuitively, need humidity to keep well over the long haul. (Click the first thumbnail, then toggle slide to slide using the arrows by the caption.)
After experimenting in a few possible locations, I actually figured out the “right” storage spot at my place, and had my own potatoes right into spring. The hiding place, a closet in my mudroom, was as close as I could come to their ask of high humidity combined with dark and cold (ideally 40 degrees, but ranging from 38 to 45). First I had to cure them in a just slightly warmer place. Need all the potato harvest, curing and storage details?
THE POTATO WOULDN’T BE the fourth-most-consumed food crop in the world (behind only wheat, corn, and rice) if it weren’t relatively easy to grow. The biggest decision is what you’re going to use to hill them up, as the process of applying more soil or mulch of some kind (I used straw, above) to the rambunctious plants as they get too tall for their own good is called. Some potato-growing basics.
sources of unusual seed potatoes: