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Crops make enjoyable landscape in your yard - Gladwin County Record and Beaverton Clarion: Home Improvement

Crops make enjoyable landscape in your yard

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Posted: Friday, June 29, 2012 6:00 am

We just spotted the first bloom on our potatoes this season. With the recent rains and warm, sunny days; our potatoes have really grown. Michigan is such a fascinating place to grow a garden. This is our third spring here in Michigan, and we have been told each spring that the weather is not behaving normally (perhaps there is no normal Michigan weather). The vegetable garden is late getting started compared to our previous home in southeast Virginia but once it gets going it gets going fast. The long northern daylight hours compensate for the delinquent early spring warm days. It appears that the plant is well aware of the short growing season and realizes it had better grow fast. Planting potatoes as early as possible allows us to make an early harvest and double plant another crop within this same season. Our garden space is very limited and we must take advantage of double cropping when the season allows. Last year we planted snap beans and spinach after harvesting potatoes. Both yielded very well and increased our total amount of harvested produce per acre considerably. Early planting also gives an edge in marketing produce at the Gladwin Farmers’ Market. But let’s go back to the excitement of the first potato bloom. In Virginia, one of our major responsibilities was cotton production. The cotton producing counties always had a first bloom contest sponsored by the cotton gins in the area. They would give a big prize for the first cotton bloom and the local newspaper featured the story. Perhaps we could get Stephanie and The Gladwin County Record & Beaverton Clarion to sponsor such a contest and prize. The contest would be for the first blooming potato of course. Wouldn’t that make gardening more exciting? We could have Kable from MSU Extension verify the potato flower, and take pictures. Then a featured story in the newspaper would be printed. Prizes would be given. Maybe even a parade can be scheduled or maybe that’s a little too much. Nevertheless, a little healthy competition amongst gardeners can be stimulating. We grow long Russet and Red Pontiac potatoes in our garden. Russets are thick skinned with a long shape and dry texture. They make excellent baking potatoes and store well. We are just now baking the last Russet potatoes stored from last summer’s harvest. Red Pontiacs have thin, red skin with a firm creamy texture. They are the first ones we can rob from the potato plants in mid-summer. Cooked with snap beans and a piece of pork side meat they are a welcome summer treat. Red Pontiacs are not as good for storage, but can be kept for quite a while if stored in a cool dark place. The potato tuber is the edible part we all enjoy eating. Potato plants are a member of the nightshade family, produce seed and a fruit (resembling a small green tomato) above the ground, but are inedible. Seed from a potato plant are genetically different from the parent and may not produce a plant that resembles the parent. Therefore we clone potatoes in the field by planting pieces of the tuber. Potatoes sometimes get a bad rap from the dieting masses. However, they are actually a nutritious non- fat food. Potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, fiber and protein, with a good deal of their value being in or just under the potato skin. If you scrub the potatoes’ skin before cooking it is fine to eat along with the rest of the potato. The calorie count often goes up with things people add to potatoes. We love loaded baked potatoes with sour cream, cheese and chili or bacon. Americans love French fries (fried in fat), potato chips, even mashed potatoes with added milk and butter. Potatoes are in tenth place for bringing in the highest cash receipts for agricultural products in Michigan. Michigan planted 45,000 acres of potatoes in 2011 and harvested an average of 35,500 lbs of potatoes per acre. Michigan is consistently ranked in the top ten potato producing states. The large majority of Michigan potatoes are round whites. A good proportion of Michigan potatoes are processed into foods, some are chipped and others sold as table stock. There are at least three Potato Festivals in Michigan. They are held in Posen, Munger and Edmore. We even have a niece who once reigned as the Potato Queen in Edmore. We hope to visit a potato festival this year and enjoy some tasty potatoes.

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