potatoes & mushrooms

I love potatoes! They are very versatile, cheap, and delicious. They are tubers that have an underground stem that swells with stored starch and water that bears primordial buds. The plant reproduces through the eyes that grow as the potato ages or is exposed to heat. The scrumptious earthy flavor that they have is the result of soil and internal microbes that produce a pyrazine (compound). They are also high in Vitamin C and yellow potatoes are rich in fat soluble carotenoids while blue and purple are rich in water-soluble carotenoids and antioxidant anthocyanin.

Depending on their age, potatoes have different characteristics. New potatoes are immature tubers that are harvested in late spring and summer and are sweeter and lower in starch, but more perishable than their older counterparts. Mature potatoes are harvested in the fall and have much thicker skin and can be left in the ground or stored for several months in a cool location. Brown spots are caused by the bruising of the flesh of the potato. When a potato turns green it means that it is particularly high in alkaloids which can have detrimental health effects such as a burning sensation in the throat, digestive and neurological problems, and even death.

Potatoes are cool-weather plants and maximum tuber production occurs at temperatures between 15.5 and 21 degrees Celsius.  Tuber formation stops at 26.5 degrees.  To prevent the soil from overheating, a layer of straw is strongly suggested.  A well cared for plant will produce between 2 and 5 kg.  There are a variety of methods to grow potatoes:

  • The hilled row method involves digging trenches from 60 – 120 cm apart and planting the seeds approximately 30 cm apart in the trenches.  When the plants are about 30 cm in height, use a hoe to loosen the surrounding soil and use that soil to cover the stems half-way to encourage continued tuber production.  This method has been practiced for ages and is quite easy.  However, it is only suggested if the soil is rich in organic material.
  • The straw mulch method requires planting the potato seeds on the surface of prepared soil and covering the seeds with 7.5 – 10.5 of seed free straw.  The same spacing as the hilled row method should be used.  This allows for good air circulation, moisture retention, and some protection against the Colorado potato beetle.  The straw mulch method may also result in lower yields.
  • Raised beds are also an option when growing potatoes.  The seed potatoes should be planted 30 cm apart at a depth of 7.5 cm.  As the plant grows, simply add more soil to ensure that the stem is always half covered in soil.  This method often provides the highest yield, offers protection against many pests, and is a great alternative for gardens that lack nutrients, drain poorly or are heavier than normal.  However, it can also be very expensive because the soil to fill the raised bed has to come from somewhere!
  • Grow bags give gardeners without much space the opportunity to grow potatoes.  The bags can be placed anywhere that receives enough sun.  3 – 4 seed potatoes should be planted per bag at a depth of 7.5 cm.  More soil should be added as the stem grows to promote tuber growth.  To harvest the potatoes, simply dump the bag upside down and scavenge for buried treasure.  This method is quite easy, but can be expensive as both the bag and the soil must be purchased.
  • Garbage bags are an inexpensive alternative to grow bags.  The same growing method is employed, although growers must make sure to poke holes to allow for drainage.  This method is not very aesthetically pleasing and produces meager yields, but is an option for individuals who really want to grow potatoes, but do not have so much money.


I refuse to eat mushrooms which are members of the fungi kingdom like molds and yeasts. Mushrooms are unique in the fact that they cannot harvest energy from light. They are composed 80%-90% of water and have a chitin, rather than cellulose, carbohydrate amine which is the same compound that composes the exoskeleton of insects and crustaceans. The majority of the mushroom is under the soil where the plants create an extensive hyphae, or network of fibers, to acquire nutrients. Different mushrooms have a symbiotic or parasitic relationship or they can feed on decaying organic matter. This includes decaying fecal matter and it appears that white and brown mushroom evolved with mammals in order to take advantage of the nutrient rich dung produced. Humans benefit from mushrooms due to their unusual cell-wall carbohydrates which can inhibit cancer growth as well as limit the production of mutagenic nitrosamines in our digestive systems.

My least favorite part of the mushroom is the taste and my second is the texture. However, many people enjoy this food due to its ability to enhance other flavors and the meaty consistency. In fact, certain mushrooms like the Portobello have an especially intense flavor and are used in place of meat due to their texture.

If you happen to like mushrooms and are interested in growing them, it is very simple.  The plants require cool, dark, moist and humid growing conditions.  Under a sink, in the basement or in a closest is a good option.

Mushrooms are started from spores, rather than seeds.  The growing medium used is directly dependent on the type of mushrooms that will be grown.  The ideal temperature, too.  A little research will be required.  A popular variety is button mushrooms which can be grown in a tray approximately 35 x 40 cm.  Fill the container with about 15 cm of mushroom compost.   Add the spores.  Using a heating pad, heat the soil to 21 degrees Celsius for approximately 3 weeks, or until mycelium is present.  Then reduce the temperature to 13 degrees Celsius and cover the sprouts with 3 cm potting soil.  Mist regularly with water to keep the growing medium moist.  The mushrooms are ready when the caps open.  Harvest using a sharp knife.

Another option is buying a mushroom growing set – a choice that may be best for beginners.


What are your least and most favorite foods?


McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking the science and lore of the kitchen. New York: Scribner


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