Even with most of our major crops planted and a good rain under our belts, for which we are very thankful, planting season continues for our minor crops. Here on the northern Montana plains it’s finally getting warm enough to plant our dry land vegetables like potatoes, corn and squash. For now, the soil is still too cool for our sweet corn, but we’ll keep you posted.
Similar to our orchard, our field vegetables are as much about experimenting with climate tolerance, yields and pest resistance as it is about taste. So we’re not just planting one kind of squash or even one kind of potato, we plant a variety. Planting in the fields means they’re not irrigated and will rely entirely on rain and the moisture in the soil for water.
Potatoes are particularly hardy for our cooler, northern climate and they have an excellent shelf life. We expect our store of last year’s harvest, although starting to get low, will last until the sweet small new potatoes are ready to be harvested early in July! This year we planted an acre and a half of potatoes, the majority of which are Yukon Golds, Red Norlands, Red Lasotas and Purple Vikings. Each of these varieties have different colors, flavors and uses. For example, the Yukon Gold, as its name might suggest has a golden flesh and is my personal favorite for hash browns. Whereas the Red Norlands are our earliest potatoes and are the favorite “new potato”. When they mature, they are are multipurpose potato but store for the shortest period of time. We try to eat them up before January long before they start to sprout and go soft. Purple Vikings are our largest and best yielding potato and my wife’s favorite for mashing. The Red Lasota is also a good yielding all purpose potato which is the last to mature abut the longest keeper in the root cellar. The Yukon Gold and Purple Viking are also very good keepers and will last nearly until July, although those longer storage potatoes will need to have the sprouts removed once in late May and once in late June Of course we use no artificial atmosphere such as high concentrations of carbon dioxide or nitrogen in our root cellar but rely only on the coolness and dampness of the earth about 3 to 10 feet below the surface of the ground to keep the potatoes cool with high humidity. We also plant several other varieties in comparatively smaller quantities, for experimentally purposes. We are always comparing new varieties with what we have found to be good in the past. We are also studying the nature of the starch in the different potatoes. We would like to find a potato with a high amount of resistant starch which might be good for diabetes. At the same time we need to make sure that the alkaloid levels are low in these varieties.
Last year we planted a half acre and harvested about 3,300 pounds so we’re expecting nearly three times that over the course of this season. The bulk of our harvest is sold to local restaurants and the farm employees have free reign on anything not already spoken for. We have the youth groups from the local churches in big Sandy come out and help us weed and harvest the potatoes. For their effort, we donate 10% of the crop to the senior citizens center which cooks a noon meal for the seniors of Big Sandy five days a week.