Planting Potatoes on Good Friday: The Darkness and the Light

Above all, this is a post about how to prep and plant potatoes for your garden. However, it includes a longer narrative not typically added to my posts of late. If you’d rather skip the narrative, you can hop to the videos about prepping potatoes for planting, and planting potatoes, which appear at the bottom of this post. Thank you and happy potato planting!

Some people consider growing a garden the ultimate rebellion because it means taking your own food security, your own well-being and that of your family’s, into your own hands. Many also see the relative spiritual significance of planting hopes and dreams–with each seed planted, many of us find healing and renewal when we plant such a tiny thing and see it grow into something so magnificent. It is the ultimate symbol of life and survival against all odds.

Now, before I dive into this post, I feel that I should underscore some personal truths here. I am not a religious person, but I am a spiritual one–I sit beneath big skies and atop big mountains and in front of big oceans and I humble myself to those powers. In particular, when I see life push through difficulty and reignite itself, I am in awe.

I know that my followers encompass a diverse mix of beliefs, so I feel that this is a safe place to state that up front. I have followers from all walks of life, some of whom are Catholic, some Christian, some Jewish, some pagan, some Hindu, some agnostic. I love every single one of you. I love that nature and gardening connect us all beneath the sky of our own gods and goddesses.

Planting Potatoes During a Pandemic: Food Sustainability and a Simple Prayer

Additionally, I have lately been aware of the relative implications of our collective ties to famines of all kinds today as all of us stare into the first, tiny inklings of awareness of our current situation as it relates to food sustainability, and therefore life and survival.

Note that I am not even beginning to compare our collective experiences of rationing chocolate and cheese and potato chips so that we can avoid exposure to coronavirus at our local store as even the tiniest inkling to what it was like during the Potato Famine, the Great Depression, or food shortages during war, but I am saying that if you’re unsure how to fill your cupboards right now, if you’re a small business owner, if you’re a restauranteur, if you’re an hourly worker, if you’re surviving poverty, if you’re a single mom or dad, if you’re on a fixed income that can’t cover your costs inside a pandemic, if you’re one of the 6.6 million people to date in the United States who have filed for unemployment, if you know someone who has died from COVID-19, then please know that I see you. I see you.

As a kid who grew up with a single mom and paid my way through my life starting in childhood and went through my own tragedies not necessary to outline here, I see you.

It would be nothing but dishonest to not admit that my desire to have a homestead, to grow an immense amount of food to feed my family, and to share that food with my community, doesn’t come from a deeply rooted tie to my own experience with food insecurity, such as it was, even though in all of it is pure JOY tied to the immense satisfaction in the simplest act: Planting a seed, watching it grow, and growing as much of it all as I possibly can because I simply love food.

And you can see how the parallel begins. We’re living through our own tragedy of immense and unknown proportions right now and anything less than understanding of that is head-in-the-sand ignorance at this point.

The History of Potatoes: Spiritual & Health Impacts

Did you know that there is a long history tied to planting potatoes on Good Friday? Not only is it because of common soil science (that’s when soil temperatures typically support plant growth in many regions), it’s also because of deep ties to spiritual beliefs around the resurrection of hope and life from death and darkness–long before the basics of soil science really emerged. There is even discord that was caused by the fact that planting potatoes was not written about in the Bible, which caused confusion and even fear about planting–and eating–potatoes.

In fact, understanding our religious and scientific ties to food can be highly illuminating in better understanding our forefathers and their own developing understanding of their food supply.

For example, this article, What Did Jesus Eat? Coffee and chocolate were not on the menu, by Gregory Elder, for Redlands Daily Facts, outlines why it might be that many foods didn’t appear in the Bible. The truth, he mentions, is that they might not have been discovered or created yet. As Elder states, “Anything indigenous to the New World would have been impossible for Jesus to eat, such as maize corn, pumpkins, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes or chocolate.”

According to The Potato by Bible.org, “It is hard to believe now, but the potato was once a highly unpopular food. When first introduced into England by Sir Walter Raleigh, newspapers printed editorials against it, ministers preached sermons against it, and the general public wouldn’t touch it. It was supposed to sterilize the soil in which it had been planted and cause all manner of strange illnesses-even death… There were, however, a few brave men who did not believe all the propaganda being shouted against it. It was seen as an answer to famine among the poorer classes and as a healthful and beneficial food. Still, these few noblemen in England could not persuade their tenants to cultivate the potato. It was years before all the adverse publicity was overcome and the potato became popular.”

It is likely that this rampant fear of the potato had its scientific founding in the fact that eating potatoes with a green cast can be, indeed, quite unhealthy, toxic, and even, rarely, deadly, due to high levels of Solanine.

One can imagine that even only a few scary experiences following eating a green potato resulted in rampant fear before more was known about the origins of the illness, which is completely understandable. Consider all that we are still learning about viruses, bacteria, and more, and imagine that concern you might have as you brought a new visitor into your garden.

Planting Potatoes: Soil Temperature Basics and Religious Affinities

As SFGate’s article, How to Plant Potatoes on Good Friday, states: “Traditional garden folklore suggests Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday, is the best time to plant potatoes because temperatures are generally still cool but soil is soft enough to cultivate. Depending on a specific area’s weather conditions, however, Good Friday may or may not be the best planting time; Good Friday’s date varies, sometimes by several weeks. If you plan to plant potatoes on Good Friday, make preparations in advance to ensure the ground and your seed potatoes are ready for planting. Using seed potatoes is best because store-bought potatoes don’t always sprout properly.”

Why is there a tie to planting them on Good Friday before the Easter resurrection? And why, in many cases, do people wait to plant their entire garden on Good Friday? In essence, it’s tied to resurrection, and to the survival of light out of darkness. Potatoes, especially, a member of the Nightshade family, grow “in the dark” (thus why we “hill” around leaves and stems to grow more tubers) and turn into food that is uniquely different from any other root-bearing plant in that they provide hearty starch and life-giving nutrients on the table, even without bread, meats, or other fruits or vegetables.

In his article Being Perfect and Planting Potatoes on Good Friday for Those Catholic Men, Jason Craig states the spiritual significance of planting potatoes on Good Friday thus: “Putting potatoes in the dark tomb of the soil in hopes of resurrection and life from a cold dirty thing is an apt meditation.  Traditionally, the old timers say to make sure the potato’s “eyes are up” (potato eyes are the bud-like circles that sprout) and the cut side down (potatoes are cut in half and cured for planting to make more plants).  I think its partly because the sprouts will reach the sun first as it grows, but also because we place it in its earthen tomb with eyes toward heaven, like a man in his casket.  The cut side – the image of death – is down.  Laying in the tomb with eyes up is not an act of despair but of hope.”

Video: How to Prep Potatoes for Planting

In this short video, I show you nearly everything you need to know and do to buy, prep, and cure your potatoes for planting. Don’t worry, if you haven’t done this yet you haven’t missed the big excitement around planting on Good Friday. I planted mine Monday night in the near-dark. You can plant yours now, in a few days, or even in June–they’ll just take a little longer to reach harvest time.

Video: How to Plant Potatoes

Once you’re prepped and cured your seed potatoes, here’s how to plant them. This is a longer video, which I humbly offer to you to watch if you can. I tried to edit it down to a shorter offering, but I couldn’t find enough things that I felt comfortable removing from the tutorial.

In addition, please be sure to thoroughly prep your garden beds by overturning the soil or laying out straw (as we do), testing the pH (which we don’t do, but which we clearly should), and amending the soil with low-nitrogen amendments.

To Summarize: Hope, Prayer, and Planting

To summarize, if you are planting potatoes this year, I hope you plant them with a general sense of hope, and possibly even of rebellion. This is you deciding to take your own food security into your own hands, this is you making your own prayer to nature and your gods to grow goodness out of dark, and it’s one more way you can support your community by planting a few more if you can to share, share, share, with anyone who needs them.

So, it is in this spirit of reckoning, in this spirit of complete humility and prayer for us all, and in the spirit of true awareness of the calamity we are in right now, that I present to you my humble offering of hope during a time of darkness through the very simple offering of how you, too, can plant your potatoes and hope for something better for all of us.

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