Potato plants reaching for the Pemberton sky 

Farmers producing an alphabet full of varieties for all to enjoy

click to flip through (2) SPUD SPECTACLE Potato plants in Pemberton are up and out of the ground so growers are now set to spend the next two months tending to the crop.
  • SPUD SPECTACLE Potato plants in Pemberton are up and out of the ground so growers are now set to spend the next two months tending to the crop.

The sun rises at about 5 a.m. these days and sets just shy of 9:30 p.m. giving the potatoes of the Pemberton Valley about 16 and a half hours of sunshine each day.

The number of sunny minutes each day is slowly being clawed back as the earth makes its annual tilt back on its axis.

While the rain-dominated spring gives way to increasing hours of sunshine, the Kuurne family is keeping a steady eye out for signs of beaver, blight and beetles.

Any one of these and other foe of the potato plants of Pemberton can cause headaches on the farms in the valley.

Roxy Kuurne farms with her family behind the Camels Hump in the Upper Pemberton Valley up at the top of the paved road. The potato plants on her farm range in size right now from 15 centimetres in height down to just poking through the dirt. Planting at the Kuurne farm started in May and took about three weeks to complete.

On her farm beavers are already a concern this growing season.

"They build their dams and then water, especially when you've had the amount of rain we've had the last few days, it can back up into the fields," she says. "It is not a large area, just a bit more a nuisance than anything."

At this point, a little extra ditching work has diverted the extra water back into the creek, and away from the Kuurne Farms potato plants.

Beavers aside, this has been a relatively smooth season so far for the Kuurnes. The potato varieties in the field this year include Yukon Gold, Russian Blue, Russet, Red La Soda and Cal White.

The Kuurnes are watching out for signs of blight on the plants while also watching for green peach aphids and flea beetles.

The aphids carry disease and flea beetle larvae mark the tubers, says Kuurne.

Other potato farmers in the Pemberton Valley, like the Beks at Shaw Creek Farm and the Helmers, are facing the same foe as the potato plants make their annual ascent toward the sun while the tubers below develop into the hardy bulb so many of us like to bake and boil to be served along with fresh salads, roasted chicken, grilled steak, pork tenderloin or any other cut of meat.

Kuurne says insects need to be monitored early.

"Get on it early then it's easier to keep it under control," she says of the insects that like to try and get to the plants before they reach the harvest point.

Last year the Kuurnes pulled 800 tons of potatoes out of the ground. Most of those were Cal Whites. Most of the potatoes harvested went to destinations across the continent to be used as seed potatoes. This is what the Kuurnes have been doing these last 27 years.

Recently, the Kuurnes started selling potatoes to local restaurants. While potatoes are the bulk of the business the farm also produces hay, rhubarb and beef.

Through July the insect watch will continue along with monitoring for signs of blight and eager beavers backing up the stream beside the Kuurne Farm. When mid-August rolls around a few short days will be spent harvesting potatoes, but Kuurne says the real work begins at the end of September when three straight weeks will be dedicated to harvesting the more than 22 hectares (55 acres) of mostly Cal Whites in the fields.

The Kuurnes will be hoping for another year like last year. They sold everything they grew despite a harvest season hampered by rain.

While the Kuurnes, the Helmers and the Beks tend their fields so our restaurants can serve world-class potatoes and other seed potato farmers from the Fraser Valley down to California can continue to grow their own potatoes from our elite potatoes here is a piece of Canadian potato trivia for everyone to enjoy heading into the Canada Day weekend.

Well over 100 varieties of potato are registered with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. They all have names. Every letter of the alphabet is represented in the Canadian potato-naming world but two.

The letters X and Z do not have potato names.

From A to W then Y, our potatoes have names like Abeille, Banana, Jemseg, Obelix, SP 23, Ulla and Winston.

This holiday long weekend, Pemberton Valley potato farmers will be keeping an eye on their Red La Sodas and their Pikes to ensure there's a healthy product in the ground when the hours of sunshine each day are reduced in September to 12 hours.

If you happen to bite into a potato this long weekend, think of the fine folks in Pemberton who are working hard to ensure you continue to enjoy your Yukon Golds well into the future.

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