This year, we planted nice wide rows and inter-planted a buckwheat, crimson clover and daikon radish mixture of cover-cropping in between potato rows. That way, when the potatoes were harvested in late-September, the cover crop residue remains over the winter to provide some soil protection and reduce nutrient leaching. Also, the clover produces nitrogen in the field for next year’s crop rotation. The potatoes were grown from tubers planted in late May and early June. The cover crop seeds were sown on July 2nd. Did you know that potato flowers are pollinated by bumble bees? Bumble bees nest in the ground and therefore lots of uncultivated areas allow for their colonies to thrive. Our local native plants (forests, hedgerows, meadows and fields) provide good natural habitat for the bumble bees and our cover crop planting add to that which is already available for them.
What treasure can be found by growing out botanical seed? We aim to find out. This year there were many True Potato Seeds (TPS). They grew from the Purple Sun, Russian Banana and Papa Cacho. We picked them when the plants had vine and leaf die-back (indicating that the TPS berries were ready for harvest). We have been growing potatoes for 4 years. We have seen TPS berries on them in the prior years. However, we hadn’t collected the berries. This is the first year that we collected berries, and we kept some of them and sent the remaining ones to the Kenosha Potato Project for further distribution to the group’s members. Within a short distance, we found 8 TPS berries on Papa Cacho plants. One plant had a cluster of 4 large berries as shown here.
Here are the Russian Banana TPS berries. There were too many to count. These TPS berries came from the Russian Banana Plants (~ 80# of seed tubers planted on May 26, 2014). There are about a quart of berries. They were harvested off the potato plants when the vines were almost entirely died-back at 101 Days maturity. Many of the berries had started to fall off naturally by then, and they had noticeable lightened in color, and they had a pattern of white dots or dapples.
How does one separate the seeds from the berry pulp? Answer: By hand mostly. Method used: Cut the berry in half with a sharp knife and pinch the seeds out of the berry halves into a glass or bowl of water. Then rinse and strain the seeds out of the water to separate out the bits of pulp seemed to work best. The seeds tend to sink to the bottom and this allows most of the water and pulp to be poured out of the glass without losing any of the tiny seeds. We gave it a try and successfully extracted enough seeds for our experiments next spring. After over-night drying, the seeds were packaged and labeled for storage. This is our first year that we collected berries and extracted seeds. We sent most of our berries to The Kenosha Potato Project to distribute to the group but kept a few here to grow our own plants. But from just a few berries, many seeds were extracted by us. So, if someone locally wanted some to grow them, we would gladly give them some seeds. We plan to grow the seeds in the early spring, similar to growing tomato plants from seeds. Micro tuber production to start new strains of potato is the mission.
The Mother Earth News by Landrace Gardening: True Potato Seeds by Joseph Lofthouse explains the importance of TPS. Here are the main points given in that article:
Pollinated potato seeds are called “True Potato Seed” (TPS) to differentiate them from “seed potatoes” which are genetically identical clones of a potato tuber. Growing only tubers introduces the danger of total crop failure due to too much genetic uniformity. By also growing some potatoes from true potato seeds, we can introduce some genetic diversity into the potato patch and adapt the potato crop to the local conditions.
To learn more about the Kenosha Potato Project, and you can join the Project Facebook page to network with hundreds of Potato Gardeners.