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Becoming resilient with potatoes  RSS feed

 
Sam Boisseau
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I`d like to start a thread where we could come up with a plan on how communities (in the right climates) could use potatoes to become more resilient.


Why talk about potatoes in the survival section:

1) Potatoes have high yields compared to grains
2) Anyone can learn how to grow and cultivate potatoes, and you don`t need any specialized tools
3) You can survive on a diet of potato and butter, and I think a lot of people would be OK with eating mostly potatoes all winter

Carol Deppe: Last winter, I ate pretty nearly all potatoes for about six months. It was a feast all winter!



To sum up, potatoes are awesome and they come in all sorts of varieties, shapes, colors, taste, texture... There are thousands of varieties out there:




Issues that I face in my area:

1) Potatoes are very susceptible to late blight. If you get blight, you lose a big part of your crop and you need new seeds and potentially new land to grow potatoes.

2) Related to 1), one way to help avoid blight is to get certified seed potatoes. If you save your own seed potatoes, disease tends to accumulate in the seeds year after year. So you end up buying seed potatoes. It`s expensive. And it`s not a resilient way to feed yourself. You`re dependent on a lot of things that may not exist tomorrow.

3) Potatoes have a bad rep. They`re not healthy or too starchy/carby or whatever. I guess this won`t matter when people get hungry.


My theoretical solution:


I believe communities have the potential to develop their own potato varieties. That those varieties can be adapted to their local micro-climate. That they can be disease resistant. That they can keep adapting to climate variability through constant breeding. And that communities can produce their own seed potatoes that have not accumulated diseases year after year.


The technology available for this is the best technology nature has given us: SEEDS! If you've grown potatoes, you might have observed that sometimes potato plants will set little green fruits. They are toxic unlike tomatoes, but also contain hundreds of little seeds.

These seeds, also known as True Potato Seeds (TPS), are the result of potato plants' sexual reproduction. So while replanting seed potatoes will create a genetic clone of the original plant, each TPS is genetically different and unique. Hence the potential for breeding and having varieties adapt and evolve over time.


You can grow a potato plant using a tiny little True Potato Seed. You will likely get small tubers the first year. Then you can use those as seed potato the next year.

My understanding is that tubers grown from TPS will be less likely to be contaminated by viruses than seed potatoes that you have saved year after year. So maybe this would be a good way for DIY potato seed production in communities. This is

The second aspect is the breeding. By saving true seeds, you can potentially develop varieties that are adapted and resistant to diseases. Rather than starting from scratch, you can use varieties that have been bred and selected for disease resistance such as the ones sold by Tom Wagner.


My experiments so far


I first started researching all of this in 2012. Got very excited about it. Bought maybe 15 varieties of TPS from Tom Wagner.

In 2013 I grew all those varieties from true seed in the greenhouse. Something was wrong and most of the plants ended up being small. My tomato plants had the same issue. But I did end up with two varieties that grew to a decent size. Transplanted them out in the garden.

Out of those two varieties, only one set decent sized tubers by the end of the season, so I kept those as seed potatoes for 2014.

Planted some more TPS in the greenhouse as well. So let's see what happens!



Resources:

Tom Wagner - potato and tomato breeder in the Skagit Valley - sells a bunch of different true potato seeds
http://www.tom8toes.com/index.php/potatoes.html

Rebsie Fairholm - Recently published a book on potato breeding - Just ordered it, haven't read it yet, but I guess it covers the basics of how to breed potatoes
http://www.skylightpress.co.uk/9781908011190.html


 
Sam Boisseau
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So the purposes of this thread are:

1) To bring awareness to those ideas and the world of potato breeding and maybe get more people excited about it

2) To get some feedback on my ideas from more knowledgeable people

3) To discuss ideas that would help create a system that could help communities become more resilient through potato growing.

4) Maybe there are other related topics? I can think of communal potato storage as one. Or collaborative breeding. Or awesome ways to grow more potatoes... I've had some initial success with growing potatoes in hugel beds BTW
 
Alder Burns
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In warmer climates this niche can be filled in part or in whole by sweet potatoes, and in fact in much of the lower half of the US, both can be grown and they fit nicely together, since the white potatoes grow mostly in the cool spring and mature early in the summer, and the sweet potatoes grow through the hot summer and mature in the fall. The challenge there, for the subsistence/survival grower, is keeping the seed potatoes till planting time the following early spring, since they will ordinarily start sprouting in the fall. Refrigeration, or bringing in new seed from outside each year, solves this.
Another advantage of sweet potatoes is that the greens are edible.....
 
Afghani Nurmat
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Hi there,

as far as I know, there are no true potato seeds (true meaning the plants from them resemble the mother plant). If you grow potatos from seeds you never know what you get. Could be any colour, any size, any taste and the yield can also vary greatly. And like you said: tubers would be very small first year. Nevertheless, new potato strains are always bred over seeds.

About the diseases:
I think you might mix up two things.

Blight is a fungus that does usually not come from the seed potato, but from the environment. It is a pain in the arm when you have wet weather. Can also attack tomatos. take out the infested plants as soon as you notice it on the leaves or your whole crop will rot.

What accumulates in seed potatoes over the years are viruses. They too make for smaller yields. There are ways to avoid the accumulation though or minimize it after all. One is called "äugeln" in German. It means cutting out the eyes with very little potato flesh cones, letting them dry and planting only them without the tuber (they will need a little longer to grow but yield won`t be affected too much). The other is making a tissue culture of the tip of the sprouts (that is what distributers of seed potatoes do). a little more sophistication is needed for that, but still doable for a dedicated person. the background for both measures is that there are little to no viruses in the meristem (the eyes/tops of the sprouts).

And I have one more downer for you:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_%28Ireland%29
So i don`t think you should rely mostly on potatoes, but on a mix of things. that makes a better diet anyway and you are not totally screwed if your potato crop fails.

I hope I could help a little. Potatoes are great and homegrown compost fed potatoes are a delicacy and can`t be compared to store bought mineral fertilizer fed ones.

So keep up your experiments anyways.

Take care,
afghani
 
Sam Boisseau
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Thanks for the responses.

Disclaimer: I have to say that I'm a novice in this topic, but I've done a fair amount of reading on this a couple years ago. I might be a bit rusty. Also, some of my ideas are just what they are, ideas...


1) About potato as a choice:

I see potatoes as only one element that satisfies the "not starving in the winter" function. So not gonna rely solely on them, but I don't really see many other options that have the same potential in a cold climate.


2)

as far as I know, there are no true potato seeds (true meaning the plants from them resemble the mother plant).



There might be a small confusion in the meaning of the word "true" in "true potato seed". I think you took it to mean "true to type", as in the seeds will produce offsprings that are the same as the mother plant.

I think when we say "true potato seeds" it just means "botanical potato seed". As opposed to seed potatoes (tubers), which are not true botanical seeds. Anyway, everyone in this field uses the term "true potato seed (TPS)", so I think we should stick to that.


If you grow potatos from seeds you never know what you get. Could be any colour, any size, any taste and the yield can also vary greatly. And like you said: tubers would be very small first year. Nevertheless, new potato strains are always bred over seeds.


That's right.

Some comments:

- I don't think uniformity is as necessary for non-commercial applications
- I don't see why you couldn't create varieties that are somewhat uniform/stable when you save and plant TPS. Just like with every other plant that we save seeds for. I guess most potatoes being tetraploids might make the genetic lottery a bit more complex (By the way, IIRC, I believe tetraploids will tend to self pollinate, while diploids will tend to cross)

- I think that having a bit of genetic diversity within a variety (as opposed to just having clones) brings more resiliency.



About the diseases:
I think you might mix up two things.

Blight is a fungus that does usually not come from the seed potato, but from the environment. It is a pain in the arm when you have wet weather. Can also attack tomatos. take out the infested plants as soon as you notice it on the leaves or your whole crop will rot.

What accumulates in seed potatoes over the years are viruses.



- I guess we agree on viruses accumulating over the years in seed potatoes.

- I have been afflicted with blight on another land I lived on. Had to throw away dozens of tomato plants. It is a huge problem here and I believe a huge hurdle to our food resiliency.

- I agree that it is in the environment. I've read that it might be getting worse. If I remember correctly, we're now dealing with two strains/mating types that will recombine sexually.

- Can't seed potatoes be carriers of blight? Maybe it doesn't accumulate over the years but is only present if you've had blight in a given year? Not really sure.


In any case, this brings us back to the need for disease free seed tubers, and I am hoping that TPS could provide communities with the ability to grow their own.

There are ways to avoid the accumulation though or minimize it after all. One is called "äugeln" in German. It means cutting out the eyes with very little potato flesh cones, letting them dry and planting only them without the tuber (they will need a little longer to grow but yield won`t be affected too much). The other is making a tissue culture of the tip of the sprouts (that is what distributers of seed potatoes do). a little more sophistication is needed for that, but still doable for a dedicated person. the background for both measures is that there are little to no viruses in the meristem (the eyes/tops of the sprouts).




"äugeln": this might be "sprout pulling" in English maybe? I've never done it... It's great if it reduces accumulation of viruses. Also it seems like a good way to multiply your production of a new variety that you don't have too many tubers of.


--------------------------------------------------------------

Some other advantages of the TPS technology:

- you can save seeds and store them for multiple years
- you can mail them way more easily than tubers, even across a border



Additional Resources

http://garden.lofthouse.com/botanical-potato-seed.phtml - Joseph Lofthouse's TPS experiments


http://tatermater.proboards.com/board/1/general-board -Tom Wagner's forum. He's been breeding potatoes for 61 years.
http://www.tomatoville.com/forumdisplay.php?s=1773e3828bc7122cf687cf9118e4941e&f=89 - potato section of tomatoville, moderated by Tom Wagner



http://daughterofthesoil.blogspot.ca/ - Rebsie Fairholm's blog - She has quite a few posts on potato breeding
 
William James
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In regards to diversification from potato, there are other tubers you might want to consider. I’m planting:

Yacon
Sunchokes/Jeruselem Artichoke
Oca
Apios
Sweet potato

And I’d love to grow Pig nut/Earth nut (Conopodium majus) but I need to find a source. There are also “Air potatoes,” an invasive plant in florida (invasive food would be helpful in times of survival). http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/parks/air_potato.html

All of these would provide you with winter tubers to supplement your potatoes and give you some diversified nutrition. They would just be other elements supporting the function of tuber-winter-survival food.

Thanks Afghani for the comment about diseases. Good to know.

Best of luck,
William
 
Sam Boisseau
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Thanks for the alternatives. I once ate sunchokes and couldn't digest them. Painful 24 hours. Not sure if we didn't prepare them properly or if I'm particularly sensitive to them.



Here are a few photos from a TPS project in Zimbabwe that I found about:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/122396925@N05/


His words:
My major goal is having a broad genetic diversity of potatoes that suit well to our area and having an extra nutritional benefit. Moreover I want to uplift the resource poorest rural farmer to be self sustained in potato production through using TPS



Also, last year I visited the potato park (Parque de las Papas) near Cusco, Peru. They have thousands of potato varieties. Apparently climate change is a big issue and they have to grow higher and higher in altitude. To adapt, they are working on breeding new varieties. So they have a greenhouse full of potato plants grown from TPS.
 
William James
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Sam Boisseau wrote:I once ate sunchokes and couldn't digest them. Painful 24 hours.


We just served them to a group of 50 people, and no complaints. I usually have problems with the gas, but not this year. Perhaps you have to ease in to them.

Another thing is harvesting them late. If you can pick them out in february, the inulin that is causing you damage will be mostly converted to sugars. I will never pick in october any more.

W

 
Afghani Nurmat
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hihi,

well I`m no real expert either. so all i say is just an opinion and does not claim to be ultimate truth.

that said, I grew potatos from seeds (I harvested myself) twice and found it great fun. But at least my experience was that the yield can be very poor. not only in the first year (i grew the most promising candidates a second time; was dreaming of my own personal strain...). I think the usually offered clones are among the rare cases with good yields...
Could not agree more with your point about more genetic variation being good for having more reliable outcomes under unpredictable condtions though. the old strains of almost anything grown in the alps used to be like that; in every crop some plants were drought resistant, some adapted to cold a.s.o.

the idea of the TPS sounds promising, altough it is much more work to grow from seeds in my exerience. the germination rate in my case was very bad and you need to start them indoors very early in the year in a cold climate to get a noteworthy crop.

i am not trying to slam your ideas. in fact i like a lot of what you say. just trying to shine a light on the potential downsides.


my suggestions on nutritional, easy to grow food for cold climate (i don`t think sweet potatoes would work, but never tried it) are:

-stinging nettle:
is so tasty and good for you (has more protein than soy!). you can dry it and it keeps for ever and by the way makes kind of an instant food powder for soups, sauces, stews... and it has no diseases i know of. comes back every year, several times a year. makes good cordage also.

-fava beans:
many parts of the plant can be eaten when young, dried beans keep forever, actually likes some cold

-brassicas:
if you choose hardy `care for themselves` varieties like kale, purple sprouting broccoli, mustards, frisian palm cabbage, ...

-orache (atriplex hortensis):
some people consider it a weed; i say its good food for no work

-several kinds of squash and pumpkin are really easy to grow, keep very well and make a good diet.

just for a small sample in the protein section.

barley and rye would come to my mind for carbs.

the thing with the potentially much higher yield of potatos of course is a good point. if you have a certain acreage though and don`t have to be too tight with your space, i think secale cereale multicaule hibernum (can`t find the english name; it`s a kind of perennial rye) would be way less work than potatoes. it grows, you cut and thresh it. maybe spread some compost every autumn. no need for reseeding for several years, no weed control needed when established, really hardy stuff, ...

aren`t there also some indigenous staples in northern america like wild rice?


after this rather off topic ramble I will come back with a more fitting practice:

to maximize your yield per acreage you can grow potatoes in confined spaces (such as a bag or box) and bury the plants under some six inches of good soil every other month. that way there are several layers of tubers and the yield is phenomenal. definitely a lot of work though if you want to make it a staple. you have to move a lot of earth and the plants are more likely to need regular watering.

@blight:
as far as i know the tubers itself are not the carriers of the spores, but if you had blight and you dig up the potatoes they get contaminated with the spores in the ground.
what i found really helpful where i live (lots of rain) for growing tomatoes is a simple transparent plastic roof, that prevents water from hitting the ground and blowing up the spores to the plant stems (at least thats the reason i was given). not really an option for potatoes.


keep it up,
afghani
 
John Polk
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The Irish Potato Famine was basically caused by two factors:
* Not enough genetic diversity - a single species was used for the most part.
* Monocropping. Hugh fields of (nothing but) potatoes.

Having a polyculture is very important in reducing the disease vector.
Potatoes are one crop that greatly benefit from polyculture.
Horseradish will greatly reduce diseases in the potatoes.
Garlic has been proven to work better than fungicides for Late Blight.
Peas and Beans help reduce the populations of Colorado Potato Beetle.
(And as a side benefit, Potatoes help repel the Mexican Bean Beetle - 2 plants that help each other.)

Onions and clovers are also reported to help potatoes.
 
John Polk
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For those interested in TPS (true potato seeds), I suggest watching this video talk by Tom Wagner.
He is probably the world's leading potato (and tomato) breeder, with 6 decades of experience.

 
Cj Sloane
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Afghani Nurmat wrote:
Blight is a fungus that does usually not come from the seed potato, but from the environment. It is a pain in the arm when you have wet weather.
....
So i don`t think you should rely mostly on potatoes, but on a mix of things. that makes a better diet anyway and you are not totally screwed if your potato crop fails.


I agree with Afghani, though I never heard of anything being a pain in the arm! Maybe that's a translation from another language?

Anyway, I think it'd be much safer to rely on several perennials than one annual for the bulk of calories. Also, potatoes are very high in sugar, and lots of permies try to eat paleo which make potatoes a "no -no".

I strongly recommend Tree Crops: A permanent agriculture, by J. Russell Smith. There are lots of examples of productive trees in there that could easily beat the potato in some sort of food wrestling match.
 
John Elliott
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Cj Verde wrote: Also, potatoes are very high in sugar, and lots of permies try to eat paleo which make potatoes a "no -no".


Right, because paleo-humans never dug up roots with a stick.

And speaking of roots to dig up with a stick, the malangas that I bought at Publix and put in a plastic pot have sprouted. My approach to becoming resilient is to find some starchy roots to grow here of the tropical variety. That way, as climate change pushes us into zone 9 and then zone 10, I will be ready for the changes. Last year I had taro and it did great, so I have diversified with another variety of taro and now the malanga as well.

As far as potatoes, this has not been a good year for them; winter went on far too long, and it looks like we are jumping right into summer, so not much of a spring to squeeze in a potato harvest.
 
Cj Sloane
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John Elliott wrote:
Cj Verde wrote: Also, potatoes are very high in sugar, and lots of permies try to eat paleo which make potatoes a "no -no".


Right, because paleo-humans never dug up roots with a stick.


Roots are fine on paleo but for multiple reasons sweet potatoes are infinitely better than regular potatoes. I believe there are some suited to cold climates (Chinese yams?).

There are plenty of paleo threads on permies so I don't need to get into it here.
 
Peter Ellis
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Sam Boisseau wrote:Thanks for the responses.

Disclaimer: I have to say that I'm a novice in this topic, but I've done a fair amount of reading on this a couple years ago. I might be a bit rusty. Also, some of my ideas are just what they are, ideas...


1) About potato as a choice:

I see potatoes as only one element that satisfies the "not starving in the winter" function. So not gonna rely solely on them, but I don't really see many other options that have the same potential in a cold climate.



Sam, This is an interesting comment, for a number of reasons. Consider where the potato comes from. It has been known to most of the world for a rather short period of time, not even six hundred years.

So what were European and Asian cultures growing to avoid starving in winter? I am not familiar with the answers for Asia, but one of my hobbies is medieval European cooking.
They certainly had foods that got them through the winter, including things like turnips and parsnips, but don't forget fermented foods.

I like potatoes just fine, but they are not the only game in town and for much of human history in much of the world, they were not even part of the game.
 
Cj Sloane
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Sam Boisseau wrote:
I see potatoes as only one element that satisfies the "not starving in the winter" function.


Peter is correct, this statement is incorrect. There are many other elements that work, all you have to do is look at how other cultures accomplished this. To a large degree, the further north you go, the more you have to rely on animals to provide nutrition. Consider the Inuit who were almost exclusively carnivores and they clearly did not starve in the winter.

I think the natives in the PNW relied on dried candlefish (Eulachon) to a great extent. The PNW version of olive oil.
 
John Elliott
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Peter Ellis wrote:
So what were European and Asian cultures growing to avoid starving in winter? I am not familiar with the answers for Asia, but one of my hobbies is medieval European cooking.
They certainly had foods that got them through the winter, including things like turnips and parsnips, but don't forget fermented foods.


In addition to turnips and parsnips, there were other, inferior roots -- chicory, dandelion, salsify, smilax, cattail, sunchoke, etc. If you are hungry enough, almost any twig sticking up out of the dirt or snow is worth digging around with a stick to see if there is a storage tuber or rhizome attached to it. Roots and tubers are less likely to contain toxins than leaves, which is certainly the case with potatoes. They may not be all that tasty, but boil them in a few changes of water, and you are likely to be left with a pot full of easily digested carbohydrates.
 
Cj Sloane
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I recently watched Tudor Farm and they didn't just rely on roots. Stored peas (YUCKO) and maybe barley were big items.

If you're interested, watch this (and soon as it may not be available forever)
 
Matt Smaus
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The bottom line here seems to be that you are interested in

(1) a storable staple crop that's manageable on a small, home scale without machinery or specialized tools.
(2) ways to ensure that crop doesn't fail, and
(3) how it can be perpetuated by yourself or a small community

TSP seems like a lot of fun, but I'd be careful about putting the cart before the horse. Carol Deppe, in her section on potatoes in The Resilient Gardener, outlines a system for saving your own seed potatoes that is essentially a home-scale version of what certified seed potato producers do. It takes some rigor and attention to follow it through, but I'd say a prolonged true seed program would take even more. If you get 5-10 varieties of potato and follow her system, you will have a resilient supply of potatoes -- if some fail one year, others will probably not. And, since you're cloning, you can grow all 5-10 varieties in the same patch without worrying about them cross-pollinating, so they will stay true.

Then, if you want to breed from seed, go for it. But this seems a logical first step.

Best of luck. I like growing potatoes, too.

PS, as far as storable winter crops in the north, there are also long-storing winter squash, short-season corn, and of course and classically, the much-vilified grains (rice in Asia), which take more work than the other two.
 
Sam Boisseau
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wow lot of responses, thanks everyone.

Cj Verde wrote:
Sam Boisseau wrote:
I see potatoes as only one element that satisfies the "not starving in the winter" function.


Peter is correct, this statement is incorrect. There are many other elements that work, all you have to do is look at how other cultures accomplished this. To a large degree, the further north you go, the more you have to rely on animals to provide nutrition. Consider the Inuit who were almost exclusively carnivores and they clearly did not starve in the winter.

I think the natives in the PNW relied on dried candlefish (Eulachon) to a great extent. The PNW version of olive oil.



I think you understood my statement above the wrong way. I meant that I see potatoes as one of the multiple elements that serves that function.


I find the answers in this thread interesting, in that I suspect some bias against the potato... If this thread was about flint corn and how to provide it to a local community, would people mention potatoes as an alternative?

I do appreciate the responses as I do see a few crops that I haven't been growing much.


Matt Smaus wrote:


TSP seems like a lot of fun, but I'd be careful about putting the cart before the horse. Carol Deppe, in her section on potatoes in The Resilient Gardener, outlines a system for saving your own seed potatoes that is essentially a home-scale version of what certified seed potato producers do. It takes some rigor and attention to follow it through, but I'd say a prolonged true seed program would take even more. If you get 5-10 varieties of potato and follow her system, you will have a resilient supply of potatoes -- if some fail one year, others will probably not. And, since you're cloning, you can grow all 5-10 varieties in the same patch without worrying about them cross-pollinating, so they will stay true.



I have to re-read what her system is but would that work indefinitely in an area with a high incidence of blight? There's a farm around here that had to stop their potato coop program after 20 years due to blight. They also had to buy new seed for their market garden.





 
Cj Sloane
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Sam Boisseau wrote:
I think you understood my statement above the wrong way. I meant that I see potatoes as one of the multiple elements that serves that function.

I find the answers in this thread interesting, in that I suspect some bias against the potato... If this thread was about flint corn and how to provide it to a local community, would people mention potatoes as an alternative?


What other elements were you considering?

There is a bit of a bias against potatoes, but also against corn and wheat for the same reasons - annuals that provoke a strong insulin response. Potatoes have a slight added issue of needing to be cooked.
 
William James
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I find the answers in this thread interesting, in that I suspect some bias against the potato...


I don't view the above as a potato bias, I think people would agree that the potato can be a good perennial plant that can be included in any permaculture system, especially in cool-cold temperate climates. What I see in the above discussion are people saying that while the potato is great, and while growing your own varieties is even better, there are additional plants that can add resiliancy to your potato project that shouldn't be neglected.
W
 
Sam Boisseau
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Cj Verde wrote:
Sam Boisseau wrote:
I think you understood my statement above the wrong way. I meant that I see potatoes as one of the multiple elements that serves that function.

I find the answers in this thread interesting, in that I suspect some bias against the potato... If this thread was about flint corn and how to provide it to a local community, would people mention potatoes as an alternative?


What other elements were you considering?

There is a bit of a bias against potatoes, but also against corn and wheat for the same reasons - annuals that provoke a strong insulin response. Potatoes have a slight added issue of needing to be cooked.


I guess corn is not a good one either... Maybe replace that with squash . I'm actually gonna grow only one variety of each squash species this year and save seeds.

This year we will have fruit trees (apples, pears, plums) , flint corn, squash, dry beans, chicken eggs, kale, carrots, leeks, onions, cabbage, etc as a source of winter food on our property. There's no way we have more than 10-20% of our calories at this point, so I tend to favor potatoes a bit more because the alternative is to rely even more on imported food.





 
Gilbert Fritz
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I think that tubers are very important for a truly resilient diet and food system. Unlike grains, they are easy to grow without tillage, fit well into sheet mulch systems, don't need labor and equipment intensive processing, and can withstand bad weather. (One bad hailstorm at the end of a season will wipe out grain, while tubers are safe underground.) Unlike animals, they can take some neglect once planted, and many can become perennial. Unlike most vegetables, they are calorie dense and store well. They are much quicker to yield than tree crops, and could be quickly planted after fire or storm had devastated a nut orchard. Potatoes in particular are resistant to most animals, while nuts are not. Tubers have high yields per square foot, which is why the Biointensive diet relies on them heavily. Of course, just using potatoes would be dangerous; but a combination of different tubers could be really important.

As an aside, I think we permaculturists should think about the above scenario, where a nut orchard is destroyed by a once in a lifetime event. No more nuts for a long time! But annuals/ biennials could be quickly planted on that devastated site to produce that year, filling the same purpose in our diet as annuals do in the wild; as a stopgap and bandage. Tubers might have an advantage in this scenario, since they don't need a fine seedbed like most grains, or room to use tillage equipment; they could be shoveled in around stumps and rubble.

To be able to do this, we need to maintain and improve annuals, so that we always have a seed stock on hand. There's a place for everything. (Of course, most of the people here probably like annuals just fine. But I thought I would put in a word for them. Some people seem to have this exclusive vision of the evil annuals, coming with slavery, famine, and war in their train!)
 
Matt Smaus
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I have to re-read what her system is but would that work indefinitely in an area with a high incidence of blight? There's a farm around here that had to stop their potato coop program after 20 years due to blight. They also had to buy new seed for their market garden.


I have no bias against potatoes! I have no bias against annuals, either. They are a problem when planted exclusively, in over-large groupings, and when not rotated, is all. For learning to breed, there is nothing better to work with because of the quick turnaround -- Norman Borlaug, famous/notorious hero/villain of the Green Revolution made rapid progress with wheat by running seed back and forth between two breeding stations where the planting season for one started right around the harvest season for the other, so he got two crops in per year. They use fruit flies to study genetics because they have a two or three day lifespan. Annuals are the fruit flies of the vegetable world (radishes are probably the fruit flies of the annuals world). And they are often delicious, with fascinating backstories, and hundreds or thousands of local varieties developed over hundreds or thousands of years.

The venerable Ms. Deppe says blight is an everpresent reality in most places, including where she lives. PP.168-9 of her book tells you how to deal with disease, in general, including blight. The short of it is rotate your fields every year and leave at least three years between planting potatoes in one spot, cull out nasty looking plants the moment you see them, start with certified seed potatoes and then rigorously maintain a selection program (detailed in her next section), don't leave cull potatoes in the field because they will harbor diseases (including blight) remove or till under residues, wait a couple weeks to harvest after the plant tops are dead and gone, that way blight and bacterial rot will rot the bad potatoes, revealing them as the sinister agents of destruction that they are. And she notes that early maturing potatoes can beat late blight.

It seems like a lot of work, no? I think growing your own staple crops is a lot of work, considering their relatively low cost in the store, but I love to do it, anyway.
 
Cj Sloane
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Potatoes in particular are resistant to most animals, while nuts are not.


My chickens & I would strongly disagree. Mice eat 'em too.
 
Peter Ellis
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Sam Boisseau wrote:wow lot of responses, thanks everyone.

Cj Verde wrote:
Sam Boisseau wrote:
I see potatoes as only one element that satisfies the "not starving in the winter" function.


Peter is correct, this statement is incorrect. There are many other elements that work, all you have to do is look at how other cultures accomplished this. To a large degree, the further north you go, the more you have to rely on animals to provide nutrition. Consider the Inuit who were almost exclusively carnivores and they clearly did not starve in the winter.

I think the natives in the PNW relied on dried candlefish (Eulachon) to a great extent. The PNW version of olive oil.



I think you understood my statement above the wrong way. I meant that I see potatoes as one of the multiple elements that serves that function.


I find the answers in this thread interesting, in that I suspect some bias against the potato... If this thread was about flint corn and how to provide it to a local community, would people mention potatoes as an alternative?

I do appreciate the responses as I do see a few crops that I haven't been growing much.


Matt Smaus wrote:


TSP seems like a lot of fun, but I'd be careful about putting the cart before the horse. Carol Deppe, in her section on potatoes in The Resilient Gardener, outlines a system for saving your own seed potatoes that is essentially a home-scale version of what certified seed potato producers do. It takes some rigor and attention to follow it through, but I'd say a prolonged true seed program would take even more. If you get 5-10 varieties of potato and follow her system, you will have a resilient supply of potatoes -- if some fail one year, others will probably not. And, since you're cloning, you can grow all 5-10 varieties in the same patch without worrying about them cross-pollinating, so they will stay true.



I have to re-read what her system is but would that work indefinitely in an area with a high incidence of blight? There's a farm around here that had to stop their potato coop program after 20 years due to blight. They also had to buy new seed for their market garden.







Sam, the rest of that piece I quoted was you saying you do not see many other options that have the same potential in a cold climate.

As to perceiving a bias against the potato - CJ may have one, as she acknowledges, but watch where you swing that brush Just planted my second round of potatoes this past weekend.

I am, however, getting the sense that you have somewhat fixated on your choice, and are reacting negatively to people offering different options.

It is a simple truth that for most of human history most of the human population did not have the potato, so if you want to learn about other crop choices, looking at material from before Europe started bringing things in from the New World will give you lots of information to work with.


 
John Polk
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Indeed, potatoes are a great crop, especially for those of us in a northern climate.

Growing up, almost every dinner at home included potatoes as a side dish. Spaghetti night was the exception.
Potatoes are easy to grow, have decent nutritional value, store well, and can be cooked a million ways.
Plus, they can help fill you up when other things are not available in quantity.

If I am cooking a stew, and don't have enough potatoes, no problem - I just add more rutabagas ('Swedes').

 
Sam Boisseau
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Peter Ellis wrote:
Sam, the rest of that piece I quoted was you saying you do not see many other options that have the same potential in a cold climate.

As to perceiving a bias against the potato - CJ may have one, as she acknowledges, but watch where you swing that brush Just planted my second round of potatoes this past weekend.

I am, however, getting the sense that you have somewhat fixated on your choice, and are reacting negatively to people offering different options.

It is a simple truth that for most of human history most of the human population did not have the potato, so if you want to learn about other crop choices, looking at material from before Europe started bringing things in from the New World will give you lots of information to work with.




Communication on a forum can be a little strange sometimes. Posts get cut, dissected, mixed with other posts by other people; conversations get mixed and tone is lost.

I'll go back to your original post to simplify this one sub-conversation:

Peter Ellis wrote:
Sam Boisseau wrote:

1) About potato as a choice:

I see potatoes as only one element that satisfies the "not starving in the winter" function. So not gonna rely solely on them, but I don't really see many other options that have the same potential in a cold climate.



Sam, This is an interesting comment, for a number of reasons. Consider where the potato comes from. It has been known to most of the world for a rather short period of time, not even six hundred years.

So what were European and Asian cultures growing to avoid starving in winter? I am not familiar with the answers for Asia, but one of my hobbies is medieval European cooking.
They certainly had foods that got them through the winter, including things like turnips and parsnips, but don't forget fermented foods.

I like potatoes just fine, but they are not the only game in town and for much of human history in much of the world, they were not even part of the game.



Parsnips and turnips are fine crops, and looking at the tables in "how to grow more vegetables" parsnips seem somewhat equivalent to potatoes in terms of calories per area.

It's interesting to look at old crops, however didn't the arrival of the potato create a bit of a revolution when introduced in Europe? I think there's a reason it spread so much: it's just so easy to grow and so productive. That's not to dismiss other crops, it's just that potato is so effective. You just have to make a hole in the ground, drop a potato, and cover it.

I'm not sure if the kinds of soils I am opening up for production would be able to grow parsnips, but they sure will grow potatoes easily.

Last year, I got sick and could not prep my potato beds. I just made holes in a grassy, clayey area and planted potatoes. The patch got flooded for at least a day. I didn't hill. There was a bunch of weeds taking over. I had to guess where the potato plants were in order to harvest. And I still got more than I planted. I don't think any other crops would have produced in that situation.


Now I am always going to grow other crops. But if food systems went down at this moment and I had to advise a new gardener on what crop to plant in order to survive through the year, it would be potatoes.


The purpose of this thread was to figure out how to solve the issues with potatoes (i.e. blight and non-local seed potato supply.) in order to make it a more resilient crop. And if we manage to turn it into a nice resilient crop, then that's one more element that satisfies the "survive winter" function. IMO one of the most promising element.

Clubroot is an issue in my area, so I'm a bit cautious with brassica root crops.




 
William James
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Sam Boisseau wrote:It's interesting to look at old crops, however didn't the arrival of the potato create a bit of a revolution when introduced in Europe? I think there's a reason it spread so much: it's just so easy to grow and so productive. That's not to dismiss other crops, it's just that potato is so effective. You just have to make a hole in the ground, drop a potato, and cover it.


Just to dissect another post...

The potato is effective, is easy to grow, and is productive. All this is true. That being said, if I were choosing a crop based on those criteria, potatoes don't win for me. Sunchokes are even more effective, easier to grow, and more productive. At least on my land sunchokes grow double the size of potatoes in the same soil type and don't need replanting, as harvesting = replanting. Heck, if you don't harvest they just come up again anyway.

You have convinced me to increase my efforts in planting potaotes, and even planting them from seed. I'm not convinced they are in any way a superior crop to other root vegetables or that they should be used to the exclusion of other crops. Diversity is key.
William
 
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