Spawning spuds in the Ozarks

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Now is time to plant versatile potatoes that power brain, body

Growing vegetables may not be a simple science, but with the expertise of a village of University of Missouri Extension specialists, it's not rocket science either.

Take potatoes, for instance, a family favorite and very versatile food. Mashed with gravy, French-fried with ketchup or dipped in malt vinegar English-style, oven-baked with herbs and olive oil, shredded and fried as a mess of tater tots or hash browns, loaded with butter, sour cream and chives, twice-baked, crispy potato skins, or the ever-popular potato chip, spuds are a delight to eat, hard to beat, and there are many to choose from, including basic white potatoes, sweet potatoes, Yukon gold potatoes, new potatoes, red potatoes and even purple potatoes.

And they're even great any time of day for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack.

"Potatoes are easy to grow, they are good producers, and they are delicious," said Kelly McGowan, horticulture educator with the Extension.

Even better, this is the year to try, McGowan said, as now is the perfect time. A successful crop depends on a successful planting, which McGowan says can begin anytime through mid-April.

"I recommend starting with a seed potato," said McGowan. "Grocery store potatoes are sprayed with a chemical that restricts their growth."

To start a spud, people should cut the seed potato in pieces. Each "eye" on the potato should produce a sprout. Potatoes should be planted in rows 12 inches apart, four inches deep, and covered with garden soil.

Potatoes can also be planted and grown in a container.

McGowan suggests harvesting early varieties like red or new potatoes when the plant begins to bloom. Harvest later varieties when plants yellow and die back, normally in July.

To harvest, just dig up the potatoes, as each plant will have several potatoes attached to the roots. Dry the potatoes in the sun to remove dampness, then store in a dark, cool location.

Potatoes are often associated with a high starch/carb content, but they are also high in vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Other varieties of potatoes, like red potatoes, taste very similar but have less starch, as do sweet potatoes, for those following special diets, such as diabetics who want to limit their sugar intake, as starch converts to glucose in the body.

According to nutrient data from www.potatogoodness.com, potatoes pack more benefits than many may realize. A medium-sized baked potato, for instance, only has about 110 calories, no cholesterol, and is a good source of Vitamins C and B6, manganese, potassium (even more than a banana), fiber, phosphorous, niacin and pantothenic acid.

In addition, its high carbohydrate and potassium content provides more fuel than any other vegetable to power the brain and body, and potatoes have no fat, other than the fixings added to them.

"Potatoes are low-calorie before the butter and sour cream get added," McGowan said.

The Extension has planting and harvesting schedules for a variety of vegetables, which can be found for the Barry County area at http://tinyurl.com/krke6db.

For more information about growing potatoes, people may contact the local Extension office at at 417-847-3161, or visit http://extension.missouri.edu.

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