We took advantage of the warm weather and dry soil last week to plant the first few potatoes of 2012. Planting spuds in February is a bit risky: if the tubers sprout quickly and emerge from the soil during a warm spell, they can get zapped by a late frost in March or even April. And if instead they sit in the ground and get rained on for a month, they will simply rot — which is why we skipped the February planting in 2010 and 2011. With the dry weather this year we decided to hedge our bets a little, but we may end up regretting the decision.
Potatoes are the most popular vegetable in the U.S., although much if not most of that popularity is directly related to two products: french fries and potato chips. Over the last several years, potatoes have gotten a lot of bad press relating to their healthfulness as a food. I’m sure that it’s possible to eat too many potatoes — especially when they are deep-fried or if you happen to be diabetic. But they’re not inherently unhealthy. And as a vegetable, potatoes are fairly unique in what they offer you as a cook or as an eater. In a soup, for example, they offer a lower-calorie alternative to dairy products for adding thickness. And while they are starchy, they are a “whole food” containing far more vitamins and minerals than other common and highly processed starches like bread, tortillas, white rice, or pasta. They are gluten-free. I could go on.
Potatoes are fairly unique among vegetables in another way: they store incredibly well. This is particular important for a year-round CSA farm like ours. We plant and harvest spuds twice a year, and we have invested heavily in infrastructure that allows us to store them for six months. In other words, our potato “season” is most of twelve months long — longer than any other vegetable we grow. In comparison, winter squash and sweet potatoes store just as well, but we can only plant and harvest them once annually. Put another way, potatoes are a critical component in keeping your boxes full over the course of the year.
Last year, 2011, while many of the crops we grow suffered their worst year ever, we had one of the best potato years we have ever had. We had a bumper crop in both the spring and fall planted spuds — this has never happened before. Translation: we have more potatoes in storage right now than we’ve ever had before.
Our general rule is to put ‘taters in your boxes twice a month, although in the summer you might get fewer and in the late winter (i.e, now) you often get more. Large boxes tend to get potatoes more often, and after receiving a few protests this year we have cut back a bit on the amount they get. We can always tweak this formula based on subscriber feedback. But if you don’t ever eat potatoes and wish you would never get them, I can unapologetically tell you that Terra Firma is not the CSA for you.
One final note on this starchy subject: you are probably aware that we generally only grow yellow-fleshed potatoes — Yellow Finn and Nicola. We do this mostly because these are varieties that grow very well here and that have many uses in the kitchen. This year we are growing a small amount of red-skinned, white fleshed potatoes as well. We are open to trying other varieties as well, although Russet (baking) types do not grow well here. If you have any suggestions, please let us know.
In Your Boxes
A quick reminder that the bunches of Spinach in your boxes today are not washed as thoroughly as the loose baby spinach that you get, so make sure to soak the leaves three times in a water bath before using.
There are a few items in your boxes that haven’t been around in a while:
Fennel got hit really hard by the freezes in December and January, which destroyed the foliage and most of the heads. But with lots of energy stored in the roots, the plants started growing again in the warm weather that followed. The heads that we are picking today aren’t as pretty or big as they were before the freeze, but they are just as sweet and crunchy.
Beets are back in your boxes today after a long absence. And fans will be happy to see that they have their greens attached. These are not the pretty beets of fall, but rather the survivors of a hard winter. Their leaves are short, homely and dense, and the roots are pointed and gnarled.
Some people ask “Why do you grow the Red Russian Kale, I like the Dino Kale better?”. (A few subscribers have spoken out on their preference for red though). Like many of the decisions we make, it is based not just on what our customers like best, but what grows well here. And while Dino Kale is a wonderful vegetable, in truth it is extremely fickle and unreliable. Red Kale, on the other hand, tends to tolerate certain conditions that Dino Kale does not. And most importantly, it resists flowering in the late winter — right now — for considerably longer than the Dino Kale.
Red Kale is not chewy like Dino Kale, but fairly tender and fast cooking — more like spinach or chard than other kales in this regard. I think it is the best type for kale salad.