Sounds like something you might do for a Saint
Patty’s day meal, but its not, although the timing is
about right for our region. Greening is about getting your
potatoes off to a good growing start, the old fashioned way.
“Greening” also called “chitting”
the seed potatoes is done by placing them in bright light,
one layer deep for a couple of weeks – longer is necessary.
The eyes will produce green sprouts that remain short as long
as they are left in the light. Place the seed potatoes in
the dark and they will grow into potato plants. Plant them
6-8 inches deep in well drained soil, keep them damp, but
not soggy and in two to three weeks green plants will emerge.
Why Greening or Chitting?
You know that annoying persistency of potatoes to turn green
in the light? Well, that’s part of the reason for Greening
your spuds. Light stimulates the formation of alkaloids in
the potatoes, which protect them from insects and some fungal
diseases – not a bad thing to have if you are going
to be stuck underground for a while. The green leaves also
begin producing food for the developing plant. Do not remove
the green sprouts before planting – waste of time and
growing potential. How many eyes should the seed spud have
- at least two, not more than five. If you are using large
seed potatoes, cut them into pieces – 2-3 ounce pieces
are as small as you should go. I prefer to plant small (about
golf ball size) whole seed potatoes.
Reasons for Growing Your Own:
Potatoes are so cheap, why grow your own – with all
the work and space required? My reasons may not work for you,
but are simple to understand. I like pulling new potatoes
out from under the bush – it’s a lot like gathering
eggs from under a warm hen. If you are growing early potato
varieties you can start harvesting young tubers as early as
a couple of weeks after the plants bloom. Just feel around
under the plants for the small tubers and extract them gently.
Make sure you cover up the roots again and keep them well
watered. Try new potatoes with chopped leeks, tarragon and
butter for a true garden grown delight – reason enough
to grow your own! Another reason is that I grow better potatoes
than I can buy! Variety matters in potatoes. In most supermarkets
you will find three potato varieties – white, red and
russet, although the Gold’s are gaining popularity.
Occasionally you can find blues and fingerlings – but
the season is short. Contrast this with the more than 5,000
known potato varieties and its clear how our commercial food
system sacrifices diversity at the alter of profitability.
Potatoes are very easy to grow in our region and soils –
if you plant the right varieties at the right time of year.
Because of the alkalinity here, it’s best to use scab
resistant varieties – I have had success with Norgold,
LaSoda (although it is not rated as scab resistant) and
If you want heat tolerant, varieties try Red LaSoda, Yukon
Gold, Norgold and Kennebec.
I also regularly grow Red
Norlands here and find them well suited to my soil and
taste. The Rio Grande Russet grows well here, if you can find
seed potatoes. I have had poor growth and tuber production
from the German Yellow Fingerlings and the blues – but
that doesn’t mean they can’t be grown here.
You can grow a second crop by planting in late summer and
taking advantage of our mild fall weather. Order your seed
potatoes early enough that you can chill them for 2-4 weeks
(the refrigerator will do), “chit” them for 2
weeks and plant by mid-August. It’s safest to work with
short season varieties at this time of year – in case
of an early frost.
During the monsoon season the extra rainfall not only reduces
the need for irrigation, but also keeps the soil cooler –
the key to good tuber production.
Keys to Growing Potatoes in Las Cruces:
Plant early – 4 weeks before the last frost date (they
can take light frost early in life)
Water evenly – mulch heavily – keep the soil cool
(50 degrees is optimum)
Plant late – at least 8 weeks before the first frost
Variety matters – use scab and heat resistant varieties
that taste good to you
Where to get seed potatoes:
Ronnigers Potato Farm
Seeds of Change
They have a long and fascinating history beginning at least
6,000 years ago in Peru and spreading throughout the world
with early explorers. There is a fascinating relationship
between potatoes, population growth and warfare.
Good Potato Reads:
Blue Corn and Square Tomatoes – Rebecca Rupp
The Potato – Larry Zuckerman
The Potato, Treasure of the Andes, From Agriculture to
Culture - Edited by C.Graves
till next time,
garden well - eat local