Monday, June 9, 2014

Seed Potatoes and Potato Seeds

 I've been researching potatoes lately. I did a blog which is your first hint but some more questions arose and off I went researching again. My Norland potatoes still haven't come up. I'm getting worried. The Internet said 2 to 4 weeks so they still have a chance but in the past my potatoes usually shoot out of the ground and I've got results in a week. Now I'm wondering just when I planted the potatoes. I do wish I'd keep a journal. I'm not sure but it has be at least 2 weeks since I planted and if they don't come up this week with the predicted sunshine I'm going to give up hope for them. I can't figure out what went wrong. These were seed potatoes and I kept them watered. The ground is cold for sure since we had snow and cold temperatures forever.

I just planted my Norkotas and my new King seed potatoes Saturday in the new garden. I hope they do better. These potatoes were sprouted a bit, which is the usual stage in which I planted them. It makes me wonder because the Norlands weren't sprouted at all. Was that the difference? Too bad because Norlands are my favorite potato. They don't give the yields or keep as well as the Kings but the flavor.... yum!!

I hope this week the peas shoot up too because there are only a few poking their heads out. I hope I don't have to replant them. I keep reminding myself that I once planted a garden the third week of June because it kept snowing and was cold and I got a decent harvest so be calm, all will work out. My goal for this week is to finish planting everything but the pepper plants and melons if I have space for them. That means I have to finish the cold frames and cut plastic also for the tomato cages. I think I'll put my cucumbers out in my wall a waters. I just want things out of the house. Not that I am running out of room in here but I want something finished. I never get much weeding done until I'm done planting and the old garden for sure needs weeded.

My garden is huge this year. Maybe not huge in terms of back east measures or Midwest measures but for cold little Wyoming it is BIG. I hope I can keep up with it. Yet on the other hand I'm wondering if it is large enough for all my plans. We shall see as I have lots of seeds that need to be planted because they are on the tipping point of still be good. In the new area I'm sure I will be fighting grass and maybe some sagebrush will try springing up also. Wish I had time to just plant cover crops there but I don't. 

I'm a little more uneasy than usual because this is new ground. Uncharted territory so to speak. That and every year I garden I realize I don't have a clue what I'm doing. I've been planting potatoes for YEARS, close to forty. I'm finding out I don't know anything about them. I only thought I did. Did you know there are seed potatoes and potato seeds? No, they aren't the same thing. I saw a bleep in an article that left me confused and wondering. Not a difficult task to do. When my Norlands didn't come up so did those previous questions and some new ones. I got to wondering if my King potatoes from last year's hailed out garden would produce a smaller crop since the seed potatoes were smaller than what I usually plant? Didn't find an answer. I guess it will come when I harvest them but I'm thinking the answer is NOT. Mainly based on the fact that what I did find said that a seed potato needs to be the size of a medium egg. Less and the plant will die of starvation since the seed potato draws its nutrients off the flesh of the old potato before it begins feeding off the soil. My old King potatoes are doing fine so they must have been large enough. As for the Norlands, they have a couple weeks left before I can officially say they didn't make it.

Up came this potato seed thing again as I researched. I don't think I've ever really wondered much about potatoes before except what kinds to plant and how to get a larger yield. This year as I have vowed to become really serious about seed saving I have delved deeper than ever before. Seed potatoes are simply potatoes saved to be cut up and put in the ground again the next year. As with all things like this, onions etc. It isn't the BIG ones you want but the medium ones that do best. Have you ever seen huge potatoes in a seed potato bin? Once I did but only once. I always figure I should try and copy the professionals as they have laid the ground work already. Why do it again? So I try and keep seed potatoes that are about the same size as they do. I know I tried a big onion, a small onion, and a medium onion to save seed with and the medium one did best. The big one rotted and I can't remember what the little one did. I think failed to do much sprouting. An onion too lives off its flesh before rooting into the ground. Just remember medium is best. You know the saying, "Moderation is all things."

Seed potatoes are smaller potatoes saved to be planted into the garden the next season.

Problems can arise if you don't have an ideal place to store the potatoes so they don't rot before the next garden season. If I'm living off what I produce, I'd like a back up plan. I've had the potato rotting problem happen to me. Someday I'll have a cellar. I have the hill for it but for now I have to come up with a new place to store my seed potatoes for the next garden season. That puts my seed potatoes in peril. Then there is the problem of some potatoes being keepers and store well but some don't. I don't keep non keeper but how do the commercial guys do it? This whirling brain is always going but Wyoming produces little in the way of crops except hay so there isn't a farmer around here to ask. I have yet to meet a self-sufficient gardener here either. Then again I'm not real social so they could be here.

When I read that after a few years of saving seed potatoes, your harvest will begin producing smaller potatoes, I couldn't help wondering how this was prevented? Of course they said in the article to buy certified seed at this point but the commercial guys aren't doing that plus I'm trying for the self-sufficiency route, not the semi-self-sufficiency one.

Does potato seeds fit into this equation somewhere?  Anyone grown potato seeds? I certainly haven't but now I'm curious and I sense an experiment coming on. The research says you start the seeds 3 to 4 weeks early in  pots before putting in the garden. The seeds produce tubers or tuberlets, as they are sometimes called. Sounds to me like if you think they are manly they are tubers and tuberlets is girly. You plant the tubers as you would the seed potatoes you cut.

But where do these potato seeds come from? I know I've never seen a packet at the store or in a seed catalogue. What I didn't know was that later in the summer I had at my disposal hundreds of seeds hidden away. The potato flowers mature and form seeds. Those are the green balls I always wondered what they were but for some strange reason never cut open. Inside is hundreds of seeds. If these are potato seeds then why aren't the catalogues carrying them? The problem is that these true potato seeds, as some call them, produce fewer and smaller tubers that those grown from seed tubers. Customers are of course going to want seed potatoes.

Potato seeds or True Seeds  are seeds not small potatoes

The advantage is that these seeds last for a few years. You are not going to get a potato to last that long. If something goes wrong with your seed potatoes you stored, these are your back up system. I really like this idea. The seed potatoes might rot or sprout way too early and use up all the potato flesh reserve. So if you keep the seed and plant it the three to four weeks early in pots, transplant into the garden, and then save the smaller potatoes to plant the next year is this how the commercial guys are doing it? It being keeping from having ever smaller potatoes and smaller yields. The small potatoes from the seeds being your starter crop for the next season.

Kirk and I were discussing how far back the lack of independence goes. In the local general store people bought seeds. Think Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I'm sure many saved their own seeds at this stage of history but the desire for someone else to do it and take responsibility is a part of human nature. The weaknesses of man. I think of just how much knowledge was lost between my great grandparents and I and I'm greatly sorrowed. I could have learned so much from them on how to do things for myself. Easier gave way and with each generation we became more dependent on others for our survival. With that more controlled.

One more question plagues me. Since the potato flower has the male and female parts and is self-pollinating then what are they talking about putting a dozen potato species next to each other and letting the bees do their job to create new potato varieties? I thought self-pollinating meant they didn't cross. Of course then how do they cross potatoes to get new varieties? I know nothing! So are the potatoes underneath the plants true to the original parent but the seeds will be a cross if you plant more than one kind of potato?  How far apart do your plants have to be from each other to not cross? I don't want to be Ireland and have a famine from not enough varieties grown.

Wouldn't my bees pollinate the different kinds no matter how far apart they are in the garden? I'm so confused. Every time I read an article I leave with questions answered and a whole list of new ones needing answers. I'm finding the potato subject quite in-depth.

While I'm looking for answers, I'm going to work on an experiment. I'm collecting seeds this year and going to grow them the next. Because who know when I'll find the answers. Other questions might send me skitting off in other directions before I return to this subject.

During this experiment I will do the following as instructions dictate. Okay, I've never followed instructions well, yes, I hear you but these are quite simple.

You collect the green balls when the fruits are ripe like ripe tomato. Of course you keep the different varieties separate. Put them in the kitchen blender and cover with water, blend just until fruits break up and the seeds come out.

Then ferment this mixture in a bowl for 24 hours. The seeds will sink and the fruits debris float. Wash the seeds several times and then dry on a coffee filter. Don't have one but I'm sure a milk strainer pad will do. Then spread on a paper towel to dry. Store in a air-tight jar with silica gel in your refrigerator. They will keep for several years if necessary.

Seed potatoes of course need to be stored between 35 and 40 F . Remember these are the small potatoes. I've had them warmer for most years as I don't have a better place and gotten by. Maybe it was just the kind of potatoes I have. This year I'm trying the garage because it is insulated and in the crawl space below the house for storage to see which works best.

Am I the only one that has been in the dark all these years or is this something new to the rest of you too? Can any one of you by chance give me the answers I'm longing for?

Soon I'm going to talk about corn and the new thing I learned about a different way to keep them from cross-pollinating. Got to try that next year too.  

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