Thursday, July 22, 2010

Early Potato Harvest

Sunny weather has created a major turnaround in gardenworld here. I got back from being out of town for a week (my neighbor Julie was watering my garden while I was gone), and found everything about a foot taller!

Some discoveries made:

My squash plants are beginning to travel.

...and make their way up the fence!

My onions are beginning to grow bulbs, in spite of the dense soil.

Cabbages! Cabbages cabbages cabbages!

My garlic is now drying out (and blown about by high winds) and ready for harvesting later this week. 

My sweet peas are blooming!

Alas, not all is well. I noticed some brown spots on my potato plants a few weeks ago and kind of ignored them in hopes that they would go away. But, of course, that never works. I came home from vacation to find this:
And this:
Sigh. With advice from my mom, and assistance from the WSU Hortsense website and that of the Cornell University Extension, I diagnosed this as Late Blight, the infamous disease that led to the Irish Potato Famine. Everything I read noted that it is associated with high moisture and medium temperatures- exactly what we experienced for all of June. Since it can affect tomatoes as well, and since my neighbor's potato plants are right on the other side of the fence, I made the decision to have an early potato harvest, in hopes that it will prevent the blight from spreading, and to get the potatoes themselves out of the ground before they are affected.

Regardless of circumstances, harvesting potatoes is one of my absolute favorite things to do in the garden. It is the most satisfying of harvests, the best kind of treasure hunt, and I have really good memories of digging potatoes with my dad while growing up. I was really tickled to see that Rhonda over at Down to Earth feels the same way about potatoes, which she wrote about in this post last month.

From left to right: Russian Bananas, Yukon Golds, Red Norlands, and Yellow Finns. 
Not a bad harvest, considering how early it was in the season, and certainly enough to last me and Matt for the next couple of months. Only the yellow finns were misshapen, so hopefully I caught everything before the blight got too far, or else it was a strain of the blight that only affected the leaves. Has anyone else dealt with potato blight and can you tell me more about it?

We also had to catch up with the rest of the garden, so there were bunching onions, kale, peas, nasturtiums, and of course the potatoes to make a dinner of steamed potatoes and a salad with a marjoram/lemon thyme/lemon oregano vinaigrette. Oh, and of course I can't forget the first four ripe sungold cherry tomatoes, each about the size of a marble!


Anonymous said...

Hi-- Stumbled across your Web site when checking, as I regularly do these days, to see where the dread Late Blight has shown up this year.

My condolences. It does indeed look from your pictures like that's what you have/had.

Couple of things. One is that Late Blight is Late Blight, and it does go right down from the leaves into the potatoes themselves. There is not a variant that affects only leaves.

However, if you catch it and dig up the spuds early, as it looks like you may have done, they'll be perfectly fine to eat *even though* they already contain the Late Blight.

It's one of those nasty little agricultural secrets of our food supply that lots of potatoes from LB-infected plants make their way to our supermarkets and even our organic farmers' markets because of this.

This is the primary reason why one should never, ever use market potatoes, or even one's own, as seed potatoes but only buy "Certified Disease-free" seed potatoes from responsible growers.

How long yours would last in storage before deteriorating is another question, but it looks like the amount you've got there will get eaten up pretty quickly (at least, that much would go fast in my household!), so that's not going to be a problem.

But very, very important is that fact that Late Blight is in the potatoes themselves. LB requires living tissue to survive, and potatoes in storage or overwintering deep in the soil and therefore not frozen, or tossed on the compost pile, are actually the source of continued LB epidemics. It's believed that failure to destroy infected crops of potatoes from last year is the reason we've got it again this year.

So take heed of that and DO NOT put any leftover raw potatoes in your compost pile but throw them away with your regular trash to be sure they get incinerated.

Also, be sure you got all the tubers out of the ground, and be vigilant next year about pulling up any "volunteers" that pop up in that area from the ones you missed.

Lastly and along the same lines, the infected plants themselves have to be carefully bagged and disposed of in the trash, not in the compost or tossed into a refuse pile.

Watch your tomato plants carefully for signs of blight! The spores can travel as much as 30 miles in a day on the wind, so it's a trivial matter for them to blow across your garden to your tomato plants.

Kimberly said...

Oh wow what a very productive garden you have! Looks great.

Enjoy the harvest


Liz said...

Anonymous- thanks for the info! I am definitely being careful re: not putting the potato leaves and leftovers in the compost, but getting them out of the way so hopefully it doesn't spread. My neighbor's potatoes still look as healthy and robust as can be, so hopefully I caught everything early enough!