Breaking firewood into kindling is a solitary task suited to a snowy day. My wood is stored beneath the porch, and I work under the bird feeders with sunflower seed hulls swirling in the air with the snow, dropping on the ground around me. It is the kind of work that leads to deep thought and planning for next season’s garden.
Seed hulls floating down with last Sunday’s morning snow recalled a recent article suggesting that the chickadees we see at our feeders in winter are not the same birds that shared our summer garden. I thought about this as I splintered an oak log and decided not to believe it. I take comfort in the notion that I am providing winter security for chickadees that will nest near Marjorie’s garden come spring, and I choose not to have that comfort shattered.
Resolving this matter, my thoughts turned to the garden and to growing potatoes, an idea kindled by the introduction of a new organic potato, ‘Prairie Blush.’ Recipient of the coveted Green Thumb Award by the Mailorder Gardening Association as one of the top six plant introductions of 2009, ‘Prairie Blush’ was developed by Jim Gerritsen who, with his family, owns and operates Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater.
A “one-in-a-million” chance discovery of a clonal variant, ‘Prairie Blush’ originated as a single pink blushing tuber from a single hill in a field of Yukon Gold potatoes on Wood Prairie Farm back in 2001. After extensive field trialing for seven years under certified organic conditions, ‘Prairie Blush’ is now available to both home gardeners and market gardeners.
‘Prairie Blush’ is an early midseason, golden-fleshed potato variety noted for its exceptional flavor and texture, beautiful blush skin markings, excellent storage qualities and suitability to organic culture. The plants are robust, vigorous, upright and fast growing with light purple blossoms. The bright, smooth, golden-fleshed tubers are round to slightly oblong and shallow-eyed with excellent resistance to sprouting in storage.
The kindling pile grew while thoughts of a bountiful harvest of blushing potatoes steered my mind clear of frozen hands and feet. Potatoes would be a new crop for Marjorie’s garden, one we have avoided in the past for lack of enough sunny garden space and fear of introducing the Colorado potato beetle. I thought it might be a hard sell, despite my enthusiasm.
Marjorie had the answer: a straw bale potato patch covered with a fabric insect barrier. In a sunny spot of the garden on soil too thin and rocky to cultivate, we will construct a square bin with bales of straw, spreading about 4 inches of a compost-straw mixture in the bottom of the bin. The ‘Prairie Blush’ seed potatoes go on top of this layer covered with more compost and straw. As the plants grow, we will add more compost and straw, keeping only the tops of the plants uncovered. Eventually the straw bale bin is filled with potatoes — at least that is how it is supposed to work.
We plan to thwart the Colorado potato beetle with a lightweight fabric insect barrier over the entire planting. Made from translucent polypropylene fabric that transmits 95 percent of sunlight, the fabric causes almost no heat buildup, so you can leave it on all summer without harming the plants. We are ordering our barrier fabric from Territorial Seed Co.’s recent catalog (http://www.territorialseed.com/).
The kindling bin is full, but only for the moment. With a lot of winter to go, I can only wish that when the time comes to split more, it will be snowing. There is more garden planning to do.
‘Prairie Blush’ double-certified organic seed potatoes are available exclusively from Wood Prairie Farm, 800-829-9765, www.woodprairie.com. Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include name, address and telephone number.