Potatoes kept under wraps for freeze protection

FRESNO, Calif.

Crews at T&D Willey Farms have been busy removing protective blankets late mornings and then putting them back late afternoons before temperatures plummet.

15 acres of Red La Soda potatoes are still in the ground. Despite the protective measures the potato plants don't look very happy. They're no longer bushy. Their edges are burned but they remain productive.

Willey has been using the blankets for about 15 years. He explained, "What we're trying to do is keep this plant just alive enough to finish sizing the potatoes underground that are very, very close to being ready."

Harvest starts after the New Year. Willey compared potato farming to a treasure hunt. "There's probably four or five potatoes under there attached to that plant. A couple of them will be bigger than this."

They still need to grow to the size of his palm so Willey has taken special precautions to "baby" his crop with blankets. "It's actually very similar to the linings that you find in disposable diapers or the quilt batting."

Without the blankets Willey says potato season would have ended shortly after Thanksgiving. Tom said, "Generally you can protect about four degrees with these covers."

His lettuce and arugula were also under wraps. Willey said carrots and beets hold up much better in the cold. So do the leeks being harvested at the farm.

Tom said the freeze has been relentless so he's ready for a change. "We hope Santa Claus brings us some rain for Christmas. We all do. We're all concerned with the little rain we've had this month."

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