How to Grow Potatoes. What is that bizarre looking creature? Why it is one of Farmer Fred’s creations for the grandkids’ delight! A few years ago, while we were digging up potatoes in the fall, Fred found this unusual one and decided it perfect for creating a potato monster for the grandkids– who were quite intrigued that it was actually a potato!
So why would you want to learn how to grow potatoes when they are so inexpensive to purchase? Good question. I agree that even organic potatoes are reasonably prices. However, if like I am and love those fancy, French, fingerling potatoes–especially a beautiful dish of red, gold and blue ones roasted to perfection–you will pay top dollar for that upscale palate. But you can grow them for pennies and stored properly, they will last you all winter.
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Rx for Inexpensive, Upscale Potatoes aka How to Grow Potatoes
SIS (Simple is Smart) Supplies:
1. Seed potatoes
Use only seed potatoes for planting–not sprouted old potatoes that have been in your refrigerator or cabinet for the last 6 months.
You can obtain organic seed potatoes here.
- Ready the seed potatoes for planting by cutting them into pieces. Each piece needs at least 2 eyes. Most potatoes will give you 3 or 4 pieces. Each piece, when planted, will become a new potato plant. If you purchase 3 seed potatoes, you will get about 12 potato plants. Those 12 plants will yield–are you ready for this–up to 50 pounds of potatoes! OMG! That’s a lot of potatoes! If you are growing little fingerling potatoes, expect about 15 pounds of potatos.
- Once your seed potatoes are cut into the proper size pieces, they need a few days to heal their cuts before you get them dirty. Healing is important for moisture retention and rot resistance of the potato.
While they are healing let’s talk some potato Folklore!
- According to the Farmers’ Almanac, old-timers in New England planted their potato crops when they saw dandelions blooming in the open fields.
- The Pennsylvania Dutch considered St. Patrick’s Day to be their official potato-planting day.
- Many Christians believed that Good Friday was the best day to plant potatoes because the devil holds no power over them at this time. (Interesting Folklore, but for me, I don’t plant them too early as a late freeze can ruin my crop, so I plant them in May when I can find the time.)
3. Time to plant the healed potatoes. Where should you plant your potato pieces? You can plant them in many, many places: the garden (duh), a raised bed, a large patio pot, or a 5-gallon bucket. (I‘ve never tried it, but a friend of mine swears a 5-gallon bucket is the perfect potato-grower!)
4. For the garden, dig a trench about 6 inches wide and 8 inches deep tapering to 3 inches wide at the bottom.
5. Add about 3 inches of compost into the bottom of the trench.
6. Place a seed potato piece, cut side down every 12 inches in the trench.
7. Cover with 3-4 inches of soil and pack the soil by walking over the covered potatoes.
8. In about 2 weeks when sprouts are 6 inches tall, use a hoe to gently fill in the trench with another 3-4 inches of soil leaving about 2 inches of the plant exposed.
9. Repeat every few weeks until the soil is mounded up about 4-5 inches above the ground level. This is called hilling. Hilling keeps the potatoes from becoming sunburned. If the tubers, the thickened stems of the potatoes, are exposed to the sun, they turn green and produce a chemical called Solanine that gives off a bitter taste and is toxic.
The process is the same for a raised bed. It is helpful if the raised bed has adjustable sides that can be raised as the potato plant grows, so the final hilling brings the soil level with the top of the bed.
My friend, who grows potatoes in a 5-gallon bucket on his balcony, drills about 8 holes in the bottom of the bucket for drainage. He then puts 2 inches of gravel in the bucket and 3-4 inches of fertile, organic soil. Steps 1-9 is repeated, with the last hilling bringing the soil just below the rim of the bucket.
What is the yield for a bucket of potato seeds? According to him, about 1-1/2 pounds of potatoes. Grown in the garden, the yield is about 4 pounds per plant. If you grow potatoes in a bucket, I would love to hear how it worked out for you. Happy hilling.
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