PHOTO: Jessica Walliser
November 26, 2015

Every Thanksgiving, my family does its best to have a homegrown holiday. Last year, our entire Thanksgiving dinner was locally grown and homemade. It was delicious!

This year, of course, it’s no different. We’ll be using the carrots, onions, celery, peas, lettuce,and herbs from our own garden to prepare today’s feast. Our turkey, once again, came from my farmer friend, Lynne Gelston at Dream Thyme Farm.

One thing we use plenty of every Thanksgiving is potatoes. I make my Nana’s Pennsylvania Dutch potato filling and use about 10 pounds of taters so we can have plenty of leftovers. Good thing this year’s potato crop was so productive! We grew two different varieties of white-fleshed potatoes this year, Kennebec and Katahdin, in addition to the blue-fleshed variety called All Blue and a pink-skinned selection named Dark Red Norland. We harvested more than 80 pounds of potatoes from the two 4-by-10-foot raised beds we dedicate to growing them.

If you haven’t grown potatoes before, growing them in raised beds is a great way to start, especially if you have heavy clay soil like I do. Raised beds drain well, and I find that when I plant my potatoes in them, I always get a good crop and have very few tubers that rot in the ground before they sprout. When I plant my seed potatoes directly into the garden instead of in raised beds, I have to wait a few extra weeks before planting them, just to make sure the soil has properly dried out before I settle the seed potatoes into the ground. If the soil is too waterlogged, the potato pieces often rot before the eyes can sprout. Planting in raised beds allows me to get a jump start on the potato-growing season.

The other thing that’s much easier when growing potatoes in raised beds is harvesting. Because I never walk in my raised beds, the soil there is light and fluffy. It’s also very well-amended with organic matter because I dump a few loads of shredded leaves over them every fall and add an inch of compost every spring. When the potatoes are ready to be dug a few weeks after the plants die back completely, I merely have to sink a digging fork into the soil to pry out the tubers. This is my son’s favorite gardening job because it’s so easy.

One vegetable I haven’t ever grown myself for the Thanksgiving table is sweet potatoes, though they’re definitely on my to-grow list for next year. I’m going to try growing them in yet another raised bed next spring in hopes of having a homegrown sweet potato casserole on next year’s holiday table. I’ll be sure to purchase slips of a variety that’s appropriate for northern gardeners such as myself, and I plan to cover the bed with black plastic for a few weeks before planting to help warm the soil. I do know some local farmers here in Pennsylvania who are quite successful with them, so perhaps I’ll look to them for some ideas on which variety I should grow. If you have any ideas on good sweet potato selections for the north, please feel free to mention them in the comments below. I’d love to hear your success stories!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May your table—and your heart—be full.



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