Potato cage match

Every year I try a new way to grow potatoes. Maine is justly famous for the huge tracts of land, mostly in The County, dedicated to the potato harvest. Aroostook County schools are scheduled around the harvest – one of the last holdouts of agriculture over curriculum in the US, and there are “potato bucks” and enough tuber-related traditions up there to fill several books. My Uncle Cyp tells the story of his younger brother held by his ankles down through the door of the potato cellar, gathering dinner from the great piles stored beneath the house. But Northern Maine has soil for big fields, where the seed potatoes are planted and harvested with huge machines and hand-sorted on conveyor belts. Here on the island I need to conserve space and dirt is scarce, especially for what is esentially a root crop doing its best business in the dark and deep. Enter the potato box.

The boxes are constructed of pine 2 x 4 x 8’s (cut in half as a 2 x 4 x 4′) and 2 x 6 x 10’s cut into 2′ lengths – very economical. I’ve fastened the bottom two boards in place. I’ll fill it halfway up with soil (6″ or thereabouts), plant the seed potatoes and then fill to the top board. I’ll probably throw some mulch or landscape fabric over the top. When the plants have grown out of that much soil, the next layer of boards go on, soil is added (not to cover more than 2/3 of the plant at one time), and so forth until the top board goes on and you just let the plants spill out the top. At harvest, one bottom board is removed and the oldest potatoes harvested first.

This method seems to be a good use of soil and appropriate plant habitat – and I like the option of an early, partial harvest. There’s nothing better than new potatoes in late August, yet that’s way too early to dig up a whole plant. I have lumber cut for another four boxes to accommodate plantings of: All Blue, Dark Red Norland, Salem and Nicola.  Proof will be had in a creamy leek and potato gratin along about Labor Day.

Meanwhile, it has been a beautiful Spring. Woad is blooming in the door yard, with red columbine and blue Chinese forget-me-not.

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