We grow potatoes here somewhat reluctantly, as we don’t see it as a cash crop. We think that we are breaking even at best. So, the only reason to grow them is that they are such an important and tasty food and we want our CSA customers to have them as often as we can manage. It may seem strange that a food that can be found so incredibly cheaply at the store (20 cents/lb in bulk) is still a money loser for us when spuds retail for $2/lb at market. I will attempt to show you what it takes to grow potatoes on a small ecoganic farm. Maybe that will help it make more sense. Basically, it’s a case of economies of scale involving us not owning very large, very expensive machinery that replaces hand labor. So, here’s what growing spuds by hand looks like.
We are attempting to get one “eye” (growth point) per piece of spud. We have been greening up these potatoes in the greenhouse so that the eyes are short and green – instead of long leggy and white like they get sitting in your cupboard. That way the eye will stay put through the handling of the piece and start growing sooner in the field. The new plant will grow using the energy stored in the potato flesh itself, just like a seed.
Now, out in the field, I have tilled the soil and run a cultivator through that makes a little furrow where we want to plant. There are two furrows per bed (the ground that fits between the tractor tires). We drive a planter across the field and place by hand the potato pieces into the furrow.
Okay, now we have to cover the spuds with soil so they can grow roots and extend that shoot. For this I will put on the hiller. Now the trick is to drive straight and hope the hill happens right over the furrow! It works most of the time, but not always…
Here’s the whole patch waiting to be hilled
Here’s the hiller at work
It was getting dark as I finished, so that’s all the pictures I have! Total time spent on spudland so far =
obtaining seed = 1 hour
cutting seed = 10 hours
field prep = 1.5 hours
planting = 7 hours x 3 people = 21 hours
hilling = 2 hours (including set up)
TOTAL = 35.5 hours and various equipment and diesel to plant 700 lbs of seed into about one half acre of ground
I’ll keep you posted on how this turns out. There are at least two more hillings to go, and maybe one or two biological (spinosad) sprays to put on, some irrigating maybe, and then DIGGING. In other words, we’ve just begun to invest in this crop!