Pretty Potatoes

We love potatoes around the Laughing Place.  My daughter eats them as hash browns nearly every morning, and we eat then a zillion other ways. Granted, they are lumpy little balls that are usually covered in dirt and come in unappealing plastic bags when you buy them at the grocery store. In fact, I have never thought of them as very attractive.

How wrong was I? I started to fall in love with the look of potatoes when I began roasting them. They take on a kind of glow when brushed with olive oil, and there is a rustic beauty to a bowl of small red spuds at a family dinner. Even the kind that come in bags look better when stored in the large willow basket that sits on our patio.

Potato leaves beginning to emerge.

Then I planted some. Buried in the dirt, they send up shoots and lovely, crinkly leaves. Before you know it, they are tall enough to hill dirt around, and they start again with the shoots and more leaves. Then comes the stage when they grow with a kind of wild ferocity, filling every bit of the space they are allotted, pretty enough to be a houseplant, really. Then come the blooms.  Delicate lavender stars with yellow centers hanging daintily above the leaves.

Russian Banana Fingerlings in bloom.

And then, just like that, the leaves turn brown and wither, and the potatoes announce that they are ready for harvest. Since we grew ours in grow bags, we simply turned each bag over into a wheel barrow and sifted through the soil to find the potatoes. Which, of course, looked just incredibly beautiful to me!

Cranberry Red potatoes.

Starting from Seed

Because the Laughing Place took longer than expected to be workable, and because I am the queen of do it now, I started my garden from plants I purchased in local nurseries, home centers, etc.  We all know how that went, at least with regard to the yellow squash!  But it got me going quickly, and one benefit is that starting with transplants basically gave me an extra growing season. Southern California boasts a long season to begin with, now I have extra time, it seems – harvesting off my first batch of corn, preparing to put in a second, to add carrots where I removed the yellow squash, to begin a set of Roma tomatoes in new corners of the yard.

This time around I decide to try seeds.  To allow my daughter to witness the very birth of food, to push little specks into the soil and watch as they begin to form into green shoots, to see them grow taller, to move them from the greenhouse to the planting beds, to know these plants. She has her own potato patch, and loves to wander the garden terraces, picking green beans or peas, eating them warm and crisp from the vine. But seeds hold a certain magic for a child, and she has not yet taken part in that type of alchemy in our own garden.

I purchased online a little greenhouse kit, then waited for four months for it to escape from backorder and make it to my door. At last, having built and sited the greenhouse, this weekend presented the chance to fill it with pots of seeds!  Out came the seed packets, the tiny starter kit that I bought on a whim ages ago, even before the Laughing Place was a fully formed idea.

Covering the seeds with dirt, to begin the wait for seedlings to emerge.

Who knew how much fun it would be to fill the soil pellets with water, watch them swell, then count out and plant our carrot and corn seeds? How different the seeds look and feel, the carrots – tiny flakes of seeds, the corn – looking as though we pulled it from the cob and let it rest until today, to start the process of becoming corn again in an endless cycle of birth, use, rebirth.

Sure hope we remember to water these!

Of course, now comes the waiting, and the tending of the seeds in the greenhouse.  I have never used a greenhouse before – will it be too hot, will I forget to water, will the tiny plants emerge or will the entire experiment become a lesson in the true art of raising plants – both the success and failure of such endeavors?

72 seed starts, with room for many more!