Thursday, May 7, 2009

Saga of the Potato, Part I

You know how you feel when a plan comes together just as you wanted? This is not that story. This is one about how frigging hard it is to get a seed potato to plant in the spring time. It all started back in December as I was planning my garden out in my head. I was thinking that I would love to have potatoes to go with my leeks. Yum. So I thought, "I'll place a nice order from Pinetree. Hmm I think with the recession and seed sales being so brisk this year I'll order early." So I duly put my order in near the end of December. Two pounds of Kennebec potatoes would arrive on my doorstep come April. I felt very smug with myself.

Then March comes around. There is a notice on their website saying that the spring shipped plants and tubers won't go out until May. Arrrgggg! So I try calling them up. I was right about them being busy. Usually they take 2-3 weeks to ship things in the spring. I've heard of people not getting their orders for six weeks. And my attempt at calling them? It resulting in many, many busy signals. Finally days later, I get through. I talked to the gal. Things get shipped first to Florida and they work their way north. I canceled my potatoes. I could find them around here. May is too late.

So you are all saying, why is May too late? Well Kennebecs are mid-late season potatoes. They take a while to grow. I figured I would grow them first and then still have time for some fall carrots. So I needed to plant as soon as I could. I was going to start chitting them at the start of April and plant them on April 15th.

At the beginning of April I'm looking for seed potato everywhere. I checked the big box stores, HD and Lowes. I checked the hardware stores (because weirdly hardware stores sell seed and gardening supplies, if someone could tell me why plants are hardware I'd really appreciate it). And of course I check the garden centers.

When I called Mahonies, one of our very large fancy garden centers, they said they did indeed have seed potatoes. I quickly hung up and sped right over. Luckily there were no cops with speed traps on the way. They said they had seed potatoes, but really, not so much. What they had was a box with soil and one potato already growing for $6.95 each. I was incredulous. Who are they kidding? $6.95 for one potato that you can't even cut up. I would need at least ten of them to fill my bin. There is no way I would get $69.50 worth of potatoes out of it. Now I know why people say their garden cost more than what they get out of it. They buy one potato for $6.95.

While at Wilson's Farm I stopped in the garden center. It was April 1st. As you will find out this was a very appropriate date. Sam said he ordered potatoes for April 1st. Yeah! But they weren't in yet. Dang! He said to come back later. So I did. Then he told me they were supposed to be shipped on April 1st, but they didn't and he would be getting them in about a week. Right about now I feel like a gambler with a habit. I almost won the last hand. I can smell victory in my future. Surely in a week those potatoes will be in my grasp. So I go back again a week later. I don't see any potatoes. I talk to the gal at the cash register. Sam has them downstairs he is pricing them right now. I said I'd wait.

So I waited and waited. I had looked at every plant in the greenhouse and was getting to know the individual koi in the pond. Pretty soon they would have names. The gal comes out and recommends I go shopping at the farm stand first and maybe he will be done by then. So I shop. I don't need much. An onion. Maybe some garlic. But I spend my time looking over the wonderful shipped in produce while I waited. Hmm they redecorated.

Anyway I get back. And Sam is there. I could just about kiss him, until he tells me that all he has is Red Norland and Red Pontiac potatoes. These are early potatoes and I need late season storage potatoes. Sam is definitely playing an April Fool's joke on me. I was happy at the beginning of the day and now my mood is black as night. The world sucks. Why can't anything go right? Basically I was reacting like a teenager. Something goes wrong and it is the end of the world. But Potatoes aren't the be all and end all of my existence. Just a few steps away I can even buy some to eat right now. I don't NEED to grow them. But still it ruined my day. Breath Daphne breath.

During the next week I had convinced myself that I would just plant my extra tomatoes on that spot. Life goes on. However when I stopped by Wilson's Farm to pick up some vegetables, I stopped by the garden center just to see. Guess what? They had Kennebecs for $0.79 a pound. This is much cheaper than I could buy online. Not to mention that I could pick out some nice small ones and I didn't have to worry about how to cut them up. Sam is obviously trying to make up for his nasty April Fool's joke.

I ended up with them exactly four weeks from when I wanted to have them in hand, but I have them. I chitted them for 5 days on the window sill before planting them on April 28th. Yes April 28th, the day the Farmer's Almanac tell me any seed planted will rot in the ground. It says I should have planted on the 17th. Really I tried. Moral of the story: don't be so smug and don't count on your seed potato before it is in hand and maybe not even then. Part II will be how I planted them.


  1. Great post! I laughed outloud at the koi naming part!

    I got really lucky last year with my potatoes. Not knowing anything about how to grow them I got potatoes and ate them until sometime in October.
    Now that I know that there are early and late varieties I will be more careful in my selection next year. Again this year I just picked the first seed potatoes that looked good not even looking at what variety they were! My potato plants are already huge.

  2. Don't you hate when things go like that, such an ordeal. In addition to my potato bin I wanted to try some early potatoes in compost bags to try for an early crop. I quickly found out that there is not a single seed potato left in a 30km radius. Then last night I was digging in the crisper drawer and found some small early reds from last years garden, SCORE!

  3. Well I am glad you finally have the potatoes you were after, I was about to send you some valium *chuckle*
    I was over at my friend's house and she had some of those red and white Russian fingerling potatoes sitting on the counter. They were starting to sprout and I told her she should plant them. I ended up with several to plant myself. Having never grown potatoes before, I did some research, went ahead and chitted them, planted them and they are growing "like weeds" so to speak.
    This vegetable growing is turning out to be a whole lot of fun.

  4. Sometimes it feels as though you're banging your head against a brick wall, doesn't it? I cringe at prices of some of the stuff in the nurseries. I can remember paying $6 for a lovely, potted blueberry bush not so many years ago, and practically shedding tears when I had to replace mine this year with sickly little twigs for double that price. But I'm glad you got your potatoes, even if they are late in coming, and at a decent price. I'm lucky that we have a local feed & seed store that has big bins of eight or ten varieties...and they are all 79-cents a pound.

  5. That is quite the saga. Whatever store I go to they never have when I want. Ever.

    I always plant on those crap days too. Sometimes I think the Farmer's almanac is full of it.

    I order seed potatoes from Ronniger's, the same people as milk ranch. They have a good selection, shipping maybe a little over priced, but they will ship when even you want and they have potatoes for summer/fall planting when everyone else is out of stock.

  6. Great story, Daphne! I can't wait to hear the ending (the very end, with you digging up wonderful potatoes!). Well, if you want to make Mother Nature laugh...just tell her your plans!

  7. Wow, you are super dedicated! I think I would probably have given up on the third or fourth round of frustrating wild goose chases! For next year, you might try Irish Eyes organic potatoes - not cheap, but they have lots of varieties and I found some in a local store (Seattle) very early in the season. No idea what it would cost to ship to you, maybe too much to make it worthwhile. Anyway, here's there web site for possible future reference. Good luck with the taters!

  8. Have you ever tried Fedco Seeds in Maine? I swear by them in general. My fingerlings come from them. I'm headed up to their public sale tomorrow. Most of the year, they only do mail order.

    You might check them out for next year. Their catalog is very entertaining reading -- much like your blog!

  9. Karen, I'll have to look those up.

    June, I may try them next year. I like Fedco, but haven't ordered potatoes from them.