Mainstay Vegetables: Potatoes

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 - 3:46pm

The grandfather of Sam, a character in the Lord of the Rings, called taters, "A rare good balast for an empty belly."  And they are. Baked, boiled, fried, mashed, in a has, soup or stew - nothing fills you up like potatoes. They are the only conceivable starch crop (other than corn) most home gardeners have room to grow. Not that you cannot make flour out of potatoes, but why bother when so much of their nutrition is in their skins? And skins or no, like all homegrown veggies you will notice the taste difference right away. Unlike factory farm grown food, the nutrition in homegrown veggies in good soil is second to none, and it shows up in your taste buds as a little bit of potato heaven.

Potatoes like acidic, well-drained, loose and sandy soil, full sun and constant moisture. They are a small time investment, for both watering (uless you set up drip irrigation from a rain barrel) and to hill them up ever couple of weeks as they grow. And they store well--keep them at about 35 to 40 degrees F--but do not store potatoes with apples.

There are several ways to grow them. Use the following list from an article at Organicgardening.com to decide which method will work best for you.

  1. Hilled Rows - Pros: no containers to buy; easy harvest. Cons: you need a lot of space; won't work well if the soil is poor.
  2. Straw Mulch - Pros: if you get seed-free straw it controls weeds and keeps in moisture. Cons: mice can get under the straw and eat some of the potatoes.
  3. Raised Bed - Pros: fantastic yields, minimal space needed, works well in areas with bad soil. Cons: it takes a lot of soil
  4. Grow Bag - Pros: similar to raised bed, especially good for patios and balconies, dark bag speeds growing season in northern climates. Cons: bags are pricey, the dark bags might burn the plants in hot climates.
  5. Garbage Bag - Pros: same as grow bag but inexpensive. Cons: same as grow bag, looks ugly.
  6. Wood Box (potato tower) - Pros: like a raised bed. Cons: lots of work to build.
  7. Wire Cylinder (1/4-inch wire mesh/hardware cloth rolled into cylinders and used like a potato tower) - Pros: like a raised bed, especially good for wet climates so the potatoes can drain and not rot in waterlogged soil. Cons: in a dry climate your potatoes could dry out.
  8. Or you could grow potatoes in a trash can, like in the linked video.

Now, what kind do you want to grow? Since I live in the South, I've had sucess with the red-skinned varieties, as well as Yukon gold (light yellow flesh), but not with regular white potatoes, Idaho and russets. Those will work better in colder parts of the country. If you live in a warm climate, just remember that potatoes are primarily a cool climate crop - and grow them in the fall through winter.

Don't buy seed potatoes! The cheapest and easiest way to make your own seed potatoes is to buy the kind you want at the grocery store, and let them sprout "eyes."  There should be at least two eyes on each piece you plant. Cut pieces of potatoes about three days in advance of planting them; this causes the wet side to dry out and makes it less likely to rot.

As the taters push up through the soil cover them with more soil, about once every two weeks. Green potatoes taste bitter, have alkaloids and are bad for you, so keep mounding soil so they're buried. New potatoes will be ready for harvest after 10 weeks, and the early ones--figerlings--are best boiled.  Tremendous flavor.

You should harvest all of your potatoes once the vines die. Dig up your potatoes on a dry day, gently, and use any you puncture right away. Make sure you brush off any soil clinging to them but do not wash them - this can cause rot. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place.

1 Comment

Gylangirl's picture
Gylangirl
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 25 2013
Posts: 3
Heat tolerance

I raised different certified disease free seed potato varieties in grow bags in Maryland but the leaves and stems were scraggly looking in the heat despite watering. Not great for visual appearance at the front door. Then I switched to growing sweet potatoes in grow bags. They do not require hilling up. The vines thrived in the heat, spread, and complemented the surrounding flowers beds.  The leaves were also edible, I sautéed them.

We recently relocated to New England. I will start growing regular potatoes again in hopes that they will prefer this climate zone.

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