Eatocracy's Managing Editor Kat Kinsman attempts to vegetable garden on a roof deck in Brooklyn, NY in USDA Hardiness Zone 6b. Feel free to taunt, advise or encourage her efforts as this series progresses.
This may seem like small potatoes to you, but I managed to grow some spuds on my own at home. On a roof deck. In Brooklyn.
I know I shouldn't be admitting this in public, but I'd honestly had no idea how potatoes...happen. Sure, I'd seen seed potatoes at the garden center and had a vague memory of an elementary school project involving sprouting eyes. I pieced together that they need the soil scrubbed from their skin, and that there's some sort of blight-prone leaf, but the mechanics of tater gestation had somehow escaped me.
Chop, chop and up the stairs to my little second story farm on the roof of the kitchen. I stuck the knobby segments into a planter mounded with compost-chunked dirt, then heaped that with supplemental rabbit poop - because I have that sort of thing laying around - gently uprooted some tomato volunteers that had sprung up (nightshades can spread disease amongst each other) and then proceeded to feel a little bit stupid.
Don't potatoes require, like, barrels? Or possibly hillocks? And heaven forfend I accidentally expose the wrong parts to sun while the plants are developing, as that can lead to toxic, green awfulness and possibly zombie attacks and poltergeists. I should mind my own agrarian business, stick to radishes, lettuce and creepy, fuzzy cucumbers and leave the tater making to the pros at Ore-Ida.
But mostly, I forgot about the plants for a couple of months. Yes, leaves shot out from thick green stalks, but I just assumed the tubers were taunting me for my hubris. Weren't there supposed to be vines or something? Still, I watered and tossed more rabbit manure on the pile. I'd jammed some sprouted shallots into the planter as well, and figured an extra trowel of TLC couldn't hurt.
And then a funny thing happened. Just the other day, bleary-eyed and bone-tired after a red-eye home from Colorado, I stumbled onto the roof deck, aching to reconnect with the garden I'd been more than half a country away from for far too long. In my absence, several tomato plants had begun to fruit, the marshmallow, erba stella and fenugreek burst forth from their enameled steel pots, the vast majority of the radishes (French Breakfast, China rose and daikon, if you're keeping score) had bolted in the heat and...shoot.
Despite an intensive misting in an organic pyrethrum, an troop of ants had methodically gnawed the tender, green skin from the central stalk of one of the largest potato plants. The leaves had begun to yellow and curl and I slumped forward in exhaustion and defeat. Why had I even entertained such folly? Best to cut my losses and free up valuable real estate for more idiot-proof plant life. I slumped forward, grasped the plant and wrenched it from the soil.
By God, there were potatoes attached to the roots. Not the gnarled little chunks I'd so naively chucked into the dirt two months prior - but two fully-formed, red-skinned, egg-sized spuds that would look right at home in a basket at Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket or in my husband Douglas' stunning (and apparently controversial) potato salad. It seems that tubers grow between the seed chunk and the plant above. When the leaves have had their fill of sunshine, the energy is channeled down into the plant, and the roots absorb nutrients from the soil. The tubers - essentially storage roots - swell into the starchy orbs we mash, fry, boil, bake and eat by the bushel.
This had all taken place under cover of manure on my own little urban farm, a story up from street level. Blame it on the jet lag or lack of sleep, but I started to tear up a little bit.
My garden is never going to feed the world; I may end up only getting a few doll-sized salads after all this care and time and hauling of soil and water. But for the moment - I grew potatoes on my roof in the middle of New York City. And that's pretty spud-tacular.