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Green Acre #477: Hold On, Spud!

Um, leave potatoes out too long and they start to look . . . interesting. But might they be as decorative in the garden as the beloved sweet-potato vine? / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

GO AHEAD and clutch your pearls. 

I opened a bag of russet potatoes a couple of months ago and left it on the kitchen counter, the one I heap things on, not the one I use for cooking. I was thinking about finding a place to store it, but the thought kept slipping down the list, and then!

Hidden behind the this and that and opened to the air and grease, the potatoes sprouted. Covered with gnarly white bits, like larva, they’re quite disgusting. 

I could knock the growths off and eat them, I suppose, which is not a tasty thought. I could also toss them out, which is what will probably happen to them, or most of them, because I had a bit of a Eureka! moment. What if I planted them?

We do know the luxurious growth of the sweet-potato vine, the drifts of voluptuous curls that unfurl and drift like vegetal Rapunzels from baskets and boxes from spring through frost. 

I bought my usual five for the window boxes, for a particularly galling $30, a few weeks ago, justified by the immediate satisfaction of hefty healthy plants—and the promise of increasing and effortless beauty in months to come.     

Would russets do the same? I’ve never seen them for sale. But then, I am not a farmer. This is born out by my late-in-life realization that a veal is not an animal. As a born and raised city person, why wouldn’t I think that? 

Well, after a semi-exhaustive Internet search, I find that russets will grow into plants. And they even flower! Rather pretty little flowers too, in pink and blue and white. They don’t appear to have the same drifting habit as the sweet-potato vine, but they look to be pleasantly bushy, good filler for bare spots, and you might even get some potatoes for the larder this winter.

There are several techniques, including sticking the sprouted spud in the ground and letting it grow, or a more complicated plan where you cut the potato up into chunks, each with a gnarly white bit (I should look those up, shouldn’t I? I imagine they have a name). Let them dry for a day or so, then stick them in the ground. 

An alarming warning accompanied the instructions on several sites, that supermarket potatoes are treated with chemicals that might cause unspecified illness if planted. To avoid this, you’re advised to buy prepared potato starters at the garden center. 

Yet the spuds we buy at Safeway are safe to eat? 

In the interests of gardening journalism, I shall try both techniques. Handing my samples of potatoes, along with a spade, to My Prince and showing him where to plant them. 

My nails are wet, again. Funny how that always interferes with my gardening. 


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