Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Great Potato Search!

Last season we experienced an awful potato season.  We've made a bit of a name for ourselves with thirty varieties of potatoes, many heirlooms.  It was a combination of things: a cool wet spring led to some rot in the field early, the weather also brought us a bit of blight.  Then, in about a two day period when we were busy with markets, the potato beetle descended and nearly wiped us out!  Very few plants rebounded from the onslaught of the potato beetle.

Most of the potatoes we did harvest went to our CSA families, always our first priority.  I know many of them missed the variety we usually offer.  Not having potatoes to take to the Farmers Market was quite a financial loss for us, as well as a disappointment for our customers. And, this winter we've eaten a lot more rice than usual!  Perhaps the biggest problem, though, was the loss of seed potato, for this years' crop.  We've been virtually self-sufficient in seed for a number of years now; not only is it an expense, but we knew we'd have trouble finding some of our heirloom varieties.

So, the search began...well, it began last fall when pal Reta noticed Crampton's Market in Winnipeg had Pink Fir Apple potatoes - an awesome tasty heirloom and one of our favourites for soups and stews.  Erin at Crampton's was able to give us contact info for her supplier and we met the delightful Dennis, a chemical-free grower and wholesaler from the Winkler area.  Dennis could, indeed, supply us with some seed for Pink Fir Apple, as well as All-Red, an unusual pink-fleshed, dense and flavourful variety.  We had a nice meeting with Dennis at Neechi Common in Winnipeg on one of his delivery days.  Always fun to chat with and compare notes from someone doing the same thing we are!

We kept in touch with Dennis and he helped us find some Russian Blue, the all-purple potato and he shared with us some of his own French Fingerling, another of our favourites.  He also hooked us up with Kroeker Farms where we could find Sangre - our all-time favourites multi-purpose potato!  We scored some Yukon Gold from them, too.  Kroeker's offering are not chemical-free, but we're okay with that since they will be grown using all organic methods.

Then, Roger got in touch.  Roger is, well, a potato addict like Farmer Man.  He'd purchased seed from us in previous years, especially some of our interesting varieties.  Roger had run into Farmer Man and heard about our losses, and as he was getting ready this spring to plant, he found he could share some seed with us!  He's able to provide seed for Linzer Delicatesse, a beautiful fingerling and some more Pink Fir Apple; it sounds like he may be able to spare a bit of German Butterball - one of my personal favourites!    He also brought along some tiny quantities of some others, including one he believes is named Klondike Rose.  He gifted us a few bigger, eating spuds of Klondike Rose and it was quite yummy.

Perhaps the most interesting thing Roger has shared is true seed - harvested from the flower of the potato plant.  This is not how potatoes are usually grown!  Roger has been experimenting with saving true seed and following the work of a fellow named, I think, Tom Wagneg.  Roger left us with a small bag of seed he had gleaned and cleaned from those little round balls that grow from your flowers - you know those little balls we all ignore!  This is going to be quite a fun experiment: we're going to plant a bit of the seed now and save some to stratify, probably by freezing.  Should be fascinating!

In the meantime, the great seed potato search goes on!  At least we have the confidence of knowing we've got a decent quantity of some great potatoes for this upcoming season.  We've got to be careful this year to allow the soil to dry up and warm up properly: it's been such a long cold winter that that might take a while!

Have you a favourite potato variety?  Some of our Facebook friends have mentioned Adora, which I've never eaten but may try to find some!  Have you any recommendations?