We’re leaving for New York in the morning. (I HOPE – I did the web check-in and while M and W’s boarding passes have seats assigned, mine has an ominous GTE where my seat should be…) I just finished teaching a bacon class, and I realized I haven’t told you about my potato condo yet! I built a potato condo! I grew my own potatoes! In my back yard! I’m an urban potato farmer! For real!
Let me rewind. And calm down a little bit.
W has a new favourite book, called Two Old Potatoes and Me. Which I noticed in Rod & Chad’s truck (Calgary’s urban SPIN farmers) when I went out to photograph them for this story. I recognized it immediately, as one of his previous favourite books was by the same illustrator. So. I bought it at the farmers’ market, and we read about planting seed potatoes – those shriveled-up ones that start to grow eyes, and piling up dirt on top of them. Building a potato condo – a neighbour had built one this spring – enables you to pile the dirt up, giving them more space to grow upwards, which is what they normally do in their little hills of dirt on the ground – without taking up too much space. And so when we put in our garden, I took the galvanized steel garbage pail I tried to turn into a smoker a couple summers ago (with little success) and turned it into a potato condo.
Here’s what you do: put about a foot of dirt in the bottom and bury a few potatoes. Or if you have bigger ones with lots of eyes, do as Carolyn says in the story and cut them into chunks, making sure each piece has an eye protruding from it, before planting it. When the greens poke through the top, load on more dirt and compost. We went away to Tofino and came back to a can full of greens. You won’t smother them by piling on the dirt, although it seems to go against what little I do know about gardening. You water it, and pile on more dirt if more leaves burst through.
And then you wait until the first frost, until the plant dies, and then wait another two weeks. You can, of course, dip your hand in and grab a handful of potatoes anytime you fancy. (How satisfying a feeling is that – running out to the back yard to pluck new potatoes straight from the dirt?)
Once fall settles in (which it hasn’t done yet, but I don’t want to leave for a week and leave them out for a deep freeze) you can tip your container over and dump the contents, and sort through the dirt for potatoes. Potatoes! POTATOES I GREW MYSELF IN MY OWN BACK YARD (damn it’s tough to type and pat myself on the back at the same time).