When you’re feeding almost 50 growing young men, what’s one crop you can be reasonably certain everyone will enjoy? Potatoes, of course! After hard work, and a warm, dry summer, the Boys Home community is now enjoying the mature potatoes.
An experienced farmer may certainly disagree, but for many of our first-time gardeners, this is the life cycle of the potatoes:
Step 1: plant the “baby taters”
Unlike other plants, potatoes grow best from seed potatoes, rather than true seeds. The “baby taters” are the seed potato, which will grow into a potato plant and produce more potatoes.
Step 2: learn what a potato plant looks like
Since the leaves of a potato plant are highly toxic, you won’t ever see a potato plant in a grocery store. If you purchase potatoes, rather than grow them yourself, how would you know what the plant looked like? About two weeks after planting, students were wondering if the potatoes had grown. The day they learned what the potato plant looked like, everyone was excited as they spotted more and more plants!
Step 3: fight off the bugs
Bugs are a reality in western Virginia. The students sprinkled diatomaceous earth on the plants to protect them from potato bugs.
Step 4: wonder if they’re growing
The challenge with a root crop is that you can’t see if it’s growing without digging it up! Throughout the month of August and into September, students watched the potato plants slowly wilt and turn brown.
Step 5: harvest in the heat
Harvesting the potatoes was hot work! Each work group took a turn digging up the tubers with wheelbarrows, shovels, and pitchforks, careful not to break the potato skins.
Step 6: dry
The potatoes were dried on Boys Home’s very own drying tables – the picnic shelter! Since the shelter wasn’t being used, the twenty picnic tables in a shady spot under the pavilion were just right to promote airflow and protect the potatoes from the sun.
Step 7: eat!
While some students didn’t enjoy all the work that went into the potato crop, everyone enjoyed the harvest! So far, some favorite potato dishes have been roasted fingerling potatoes with rosemary, parmesan, and butter, and of course, the ubiquitous mashed potato.