It’s potato planting time. Potatoes are one of the world’s most important foods. Most restaurants meals include potatoes. Restaurant baked potatoes, best called steamed potatoes because they’re wrapped in foil for quick cooking are boring and tasteless ... boiled in foil. I scrub a big potato clean, slather the skin with plenty of olive oil, make a tiny knife slit in the skin so it won’t explode in the oven and bake it until it’s slightly soft inside when squeezed and the skin is crispy and brown. That’s a baked potato. I eat skin and all with plenty of real butter, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Just beneath the skin are significant quantities of manganese, chromium, selenium and molybdenum. The skin is loaded with vitamins C and B and potassium. Fifty percent of a potato’s potassium is lost during boiling. Steaming, baking and frying do not reduce much potassium. I bake potatoes for potato salad.
Eat potatoes in the Peruvian Andes where they originated and they are far from boring. These tiny “papas” are knobby in shape and size with stupendous colors of black skinned with bright yellow flesh, or with rose-colored skin and flesh, or in all shades of purples and blues. Their taste is earthy and sweet. Only in texture are they comparable to our common potatoes. You can find these heirloom varieties of potatoes in seed catalogs. Many are showing up in produce and farmer’s markets today.
Potatoes are of the night shade family of plants and often shunned by those with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. A doctor I studied with years ago said to serve garlic or onions with potatoes and other members of the night shade family, which includes peppers and eggplants, to counteract the painful effects. This is most likely why sprinkling chives on baked potatoes became popular. Potato juice has antibiotic properties and neutralized body acids and kills the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers and gall stones. Potatoes help lower blood pressure, build the digestive system and nourish the pancreas. There is more fiber in a baked potato than in a cup of wheat bran. This fiber helps clean the heart and arteries and lower cholesterol. Do not eat potato eyes or any green-colored skin or flesh. It contains a poisonous alkaloid solanine. This alkaloid is a nerve poison that can cause drowsiness, itching, diarrhea and vomiting.
Plant potatoes in January and February when temperatures are 50 to 70 degrees (F). Plant four to six inches deep and a foot apart in sandy or loose soil enriched with lots of organic material. I cover my seed potatoes with 18 inches of old hay for easy harvest. I reach into the hay as soon as the potato plants start to bloom and pull out little new potatoes for cooking with fresh string beans from the garden. Potato plants need water to form good tubers. Water at least 18 inches deep infrequently and let the soil dry out between waterings. Dillard Feed & Seed on North Main Street in Weatherford got their seed potatoes in this week.
Plant a clump of horseradish on each corner of the potato patch to protect and enhance the growth of potatoes. Potatoes are susceptible to various diseases and insects. Beetles and aphids feast on the tender new shoots. Grubs and nematodes chew on the tubers. Protect your potatoes by planting lots of companion plants nearby. Peas and flowering shrubs and herbs planted throughout the garden give protection to all plants growing nearby. Petunias planted all around the potato patch helps repel beetles and aphids. Strawberries, Nasturtiums and Marigolds protect garden soil from nematodes and plants from insect damage. Do not plant potatoes near cucumbers, eggplants, pumpkins, sunflowers or tomatoes.
Listen to Jo Anne Boudreau on Herb Talk Thursday morning from 8 to 9 on KMQX 88.5, 89.5, KSQX 89.1, K249 97.7, K72AZ 93.3 FM radio and www.KYQX.com