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Monday, October 23, 2023

A Lesson From Growing Potatoes

I finished digging all of the potatoes over this past weekend. 

I planted 3 varieties of potatoes in 2 beds last spring, purple fingerling (seed saved from last year's crop -- I don't recall the variety name), Yukon Gold, and Red Norland.  I gave the different potato varieties similar treatment, light, water, soil amendments. I was hoping for a lot of the red and yellow potatoes. As it turned out, the purple fingerling ones out-performed the other two by a huge margin. All of the red and yellow ones fit into 1 box, while the purple potatoes took up 3 similar-sized boxes.

What lesson did I learn from my experience? Well, it isn't that purple fingerling potatoes will out-perform all other varieties for all people. In fact, where you live, perhaps the Yukon Golds would be the prolific potatoes, or the Red Norlands, or some other variety. The lesson I learned is that if a variety doesn't pan out, I should try a different variety next time, or change the soil conditions, or change my watering schedule. By changing things up, I can often find what works for my situation. If I had only planted Yukon Golds this past season, I might have thought potatoes just don't grow well in my area. In my opinion on gardening, it's always worth trying again with a change in variety or controllable conditions. Gardening is something of an experiment every year. Some experiments succeed and some fail. Hopefully for those of us gardeners, more of our gardening experiments succeed than fail. In this case, I learned that those purple fingerling potatoes will likely do better for me than some of the other popular varieties.

Many of you don't keep gardens, or if you do, don't bother growing potatoes. Why would any of this matter then to you? Trying again but changing conditions is a lesson that can be applied to many endeavors. It's by trying and tweaking how we approach a task that often leads us to success. And even if we find out we just can't grow potatoes, we will know that we did try as many ways and varieties as was reasonable.

I remember my first few pie crusts. Those things were tough as cardboard. I didn't give up, however. We had a yard full of fruit trees to utilize in the rental in which we were living. I searched out and tried several different pie pastry recipes until I landed on one that worked for my mediocre pie-baking skills at the time. 

Another example comes from when I went to repaint all of the rooms in our house when we first moved in. For doing my first room, I bought the cheapest brush at the store. After all, I was painting the interior myself to save money. I didn't realize some better brushes would make the job not only look better, but the paint would go on the walls more smoothly, making my job easier. When I finished the walls in that room, I headed back to Home Base (our Home Depot-type store at the time) to buy paint for the trim. The paint guy chatted with me for a while, uncovering that this was my first "big" paint job. I told him all about the troubles I'd had, and asked for tips on how to make the next room go more smoothly.  His first question was about the brush I was using. I showed it to him on the rack. He informed me that that grade of brush was really best for staining fences. He got me set up with a couple of better brushes. He was right -- making this one change made the paint go on more smoothly and the end result was a better look. Tweaking that one thing, the tool I was using, made all the difference. Had I not had that conversation, I might have thought I just wasn't cut out for house painting.

So, that's my lesson with this tale of potatoes, pie crust, and painting. I've learned that instead of giving up, changing one or two elements of a project can mean I have success the next time around. With gardening, I will always be tweaking what and how I plant and grow. I don't think there will ever be an end to gardening lessons for me.

As far as how many pounds of potatoes we harvested this year -- it looks like our harvest was around 32 pounds in total. It's not as much as I had hoped, but still enough for a few months for my family. 

Have you had projects or endeavors that you needed to rethink before you found success? It isn't always about skill level. Sometimes we're just going about something in the wrong way or with the wrong tools.


  1. So true! I painted my mom's dresser and bedside stand and I thought I had done my due diligence, but the guide that I was following recommended a primer which didn't provide adequate bleed-through blockage, so I did more research and found that I needed a different primer. And you are right, this is true in so many different areas of life.

    1. I'm glad you found out what you needed to repaint your mom's furniture, Kris. It's frustrating to think you've done it right, only to find out you really needed something different.

  2. So far, my potato growing hasn't worked out very well with very small harvests. But I know some of the problem. I grow old, leftover starts from my sister, and I don't always start with the best material. But much of my garden is extras from others. We are not picky about the variety of things, so it works. BTW, my sister grew two kinds of potatoes: kennebec and purple fingerlings, and the purple fingerlings were the winners for her, also.

    So many things, I've learned from trial and error. Most everything, I think. As far as trial and error in gardening, I gardener friend once told me that she gives a plant three different locations in her yard before she gives up on it. Gardening definitely takes patience.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I like your gardener friend's thoughts on trying to make a plant work, giving it 3 tries in different areas before giving up on it. I'll keep that in mind when I am moving plants this next spring.


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