• What Should I Do?
    Seed Potatoes - Photo: Woodman

    Growing Your Own Potatoes

    The basics of planting, growing, and storing potatoes
    by Tom Page

    Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 3:19 PM

Why Grow Your Own Potatoes?

We can improve resiliency, health, and quality of life by growing our own vegetables locally. Many of the vegetables commonly grown in backyard gardens, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots ,are great sources of vitamins and minerals but are not as high in energy content as measured by calories. Much of our daily caloric needs come from staple grains (wheat, corn, rice) which are difficult to produce from a backyard garden due to the time, space, and effort required. Fortunately the potato is an energy dense vegetable with many advantages for the part-time gardener, including:    

  • Easy and rewarding to grow
  • Store well with minimal effort
  • Nutritious source of carbohydrates as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Simple to prepare
  • Homegrown potatoes taste great! 

History

Potatoes originated in southern Peru in South America. Spanish sailors are believed to have brought the potato to Europe in the 16th century, where it became a major food resource by the 1800s. Potatoes have become a widely consumed crop in the US as well, and it is clear that potatoes have a lot more to offer beyond French fries.

Seed Potatoes

Potato plants are grown from seed potatoes, which are simply small potatoes or larger cut-up tubers. Certified seed potatoes from an established supplier are recommended to ensure they are disease free and certainty of the variety. Some mail order sources for seed potatoes are listed in the references at the end of this article if you do not have a local source.  

Be sure to order seed potatoes in the early spring before they sell out. Supermarket potatoes might work in a pinch, but they are not ideal to use because they may be treated to inhibit sprouting. 

Chitting or green sprouting prior to planting is recommended to encourage early growth. Store your seed potatoes in a warm area with indirect sunlight for 2 or more weeks until sprouts form from the eyes. I don’t bother to cut seed potatoes before planting, but if you choose to cut them, follow the recommendations of the supplier.

To figure how much seed you will need, 10 pounds of seed plants about 80 feet at 12’ spacing. A typical yield for me is about 5 to 10 pounds of potatoes for every linear 10 feet.

Planting

Potatoes grow in most well-drained fertile soils with decent sunlight. They need lots of space, so you may want to save your raised beds for other veggies. I use a different area each year to plant potatoes in my backyard, rotating with other space-consuming crops such as corn and squash. So far I have not had any problems with disease.

Wait to plant until the soil is 55-60 degrees F and dry enough to work before planting to reduce the risk of seed decay. This past spring I planted in early May on a warm weekend, only to be hit with a period of cold wet weather. Nothing came up, but fortunately a replanting 4 weeks later was much more successful.

Seed potatoes are typically recommended to be planted in a furrow 4” to 6” deep, spaced about 12” apart, with rows at least 2' – 3' on center.  However, the no-till, no-dig method makes growing potatoes easy! Simply place the seed pieces on the surface of the ground – dirt, low grass areas, or whatever. I string out a long tape measure to keep neat rows, or you can place seed randomly. Cover with mulch and you’re done!

Mulch can include hay, straw, leaves, compost, or reportedly even newspaper. I use composted yard waste for free from the local transfer center and my own backyard pile. 

There are several great advantages to the no-dig method:

  • Saves labor and machinery needs
  • Preserves soil structure and retains moisture
  • Allows seed to warm up

People with limited space can still grow potatoes in many ways using containers, bags, or towers. I don’t have experience with this, but hopefully others can share their success.

Hilling

The purpose of hilling is to add more soil or mulch around the plants so that new tubers can form between the seed pieces and the soil surface. Hilling allows the plants to preserve moisture and protects tubers from sunlight.

Hilling should be done when the plants are 6” to 12” tall, about 3 or 4 weeks after planting, sufficient to cover most but not all of the plant. Hill a second time when the plants are again 6”-8” tall if you get a chance, but the second hilling is less critical. I hill by adding more mulch with a wheelbarrow and shovel. You can also use a hoe to move adjacent soil or mulch along each row if your soil is workable.   

Other than hilling, very little weeding is required. The potato plants should soon be big enough to shade and out compete weeds. I pull out the big weeds or run down between rows with a stirrup hoe if I have time, but don’t worry much if I can’t get to it. 

Harvesting

New potatoes can be “robbed” anytime after about 60 days. It is fun to go out just before supper and reach carefully around the plant roots in the soil with your hand to steal new potatoes. They are light-skinned and delicious.

Potatoes are mature when the tops start to die back. Leave the potatoes in the ground at least another two weeks to allow the skins to toughen. Delaying digging until cool weather comes is desirable for long term storage, and some folks report good luck storing potatoes in the ground until frost. However, quality may deteriorate if potatoes are left in wet soil too long or you have problems with bugs. I use judgment as the season goes based on the weather and my available time.

To avoid damaging the spuds I like to dig potatoes with my hands and gloves, which is easily done in the loose compost. If you can time it right, it’s worth waiting a few days after the last rain event so you don’t end up with potatoes covered with mud. 

Storing

Loose dirt may be brushed off but washing potatoes is not necessary or recommended. I have washed potatoes though when I’ve had to dig them in wet conditions but have had no problems with storage as long as I let them dry out thoroughly first.   

Cull out potatoes not fit for long term storage. Damaged spuds may be eaten soon but should not be stored. Green or sun struck potatoes may be saved for seed but should not be eaten since they may give you a tummy ache (toxic). Diseased potatoes should not be saved or composted but disposed of. Really small potatoes are usually not worth saving and will not store well.

Spread harvested potatoes out on trays or other surfaces and allow them to dry and heal for a couple weeks at 55 – 60 F. I save a bunch of shallow cardboard produce boxes for this purpose and cover the potatoes with old sheets or light blankets to protect them from the sun if I cannot darken the room. 

Before final storage I check again for any bad potatoes then place carefully in open boxes or trays.   Potatoes store best in very cool (32 – 40 F) and high humidity (85 – 90%) conditions, in the dark. However, I used the corner of my basement for a couple years successfully though it was seldom that cold or humid.

If you want to store a substantial amount of produce, a root cellar is an initial expense but is tremendously handy. I built a basic root cellar in the northwest corner of my basement by walling off a 4’ x 8’ room with 2” thick rigid insulation. There are two vents for natural convection, one to allow cold air in down low and one to allow warmer air to escape from up high. 4” ducting is routed to opposite sides of the room for maximum circulation. I installed 4” blast gates, used for woodworking dust collection systems to provide the ability to shutoff air flow. I shut the vents only if it is very warm outside to keep the root cellar cool, or if it is so cold outside there is a risk of freezing in the root cellar. I also added an old bathroom fan to force cold air in during cool autumn nights.

Keep a thermometer in your root cellar to monitor the temperature. Some open pails or trays of water will help maintain humidity.   Place mouse traps as necessary to control critters. I store carrots, beets etc. in the root cellar also, but keep apples in a separate area because the gases given off by apples may cause deterioration of your other veggies if ventilation is not adequate.

There are many possible ways to build root cellars inside or outside your house. See the references for more information.  

Potato Varieties

There are hundreds of interesting varieties of potatoes I have yet to try, but here are a few common ones that I have had success with. 

Dark Red Norlands are a great early, white potato. I start stealing these to eat as soon as I can in the summer, when the skins are bright red and paper thin. They are excellent for boiling or steaming. Dark Red Norlands store good but not as long as others below so I eat them up first in the fall.

Yukon Gold is an all-purpose potato I would choose first if I could only grow one type. They are early to mature with large productive tubers with yellow flesh that are excellent tasting and store well. Great for mashed potatoes or French fries.

Kennebec is a great mid-season, white, all purpose potato that grows large and stores well.

Gold Rush is a late, white, russet variety of potato that is excellent for baking and stores well.

German Butterballs are absolutely the best tasting all purpose potato I tried new this year and is excellent steamed, baked, or roasted. The flesh is yellow, and they mature late and store well. The only potential drawback was my tubers were relatively small.

Cooking

I’m still learning how to be a better cook, but an understanding of the different types of potatoes can help in selection for your particular recipe. 

High starch, low moisture potatoes such as Gold Rush, Idaho, and Russets, are best for baking or light, fluffy mashed potatoes. The texture is sometimes described as floury or mealy.

Low starch, high moisture potatoes such as red-skinned varieties hold their shape well and are great for steaming, pan frying, or potato salads. The texture is sometimes described as waxy.

All purpose potatoes are medium starch and work well in most dishes whether they are steamed, roasted, mashed, or fried.

New potatoes are simply red or white potatoes harvested early and are great for salads or roasting. They may not store well so eat them up.

Hopefully others can share some great simple recipes. We want to thrive, not just survive, and growing your own potatoes may be one way to do that!

Resources

Johnny’s Selected Seeds company offers a variety of seed potatoes and a concise guide online about what you should know about growing potatoes.
http://www.johnnyseeds.com/default.aspx

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds – Large selection of Organic, Conventional and unique tubers. http://www.irisheyesgardenseeds.com/index.php?cPath=30&osCsid=3ba799134f5a8b0196d398f239e25f3c

Maine Potato Lady has a wide variety of seed potatoes to order. Check out her guide for growing potatoes and much more.
https://www.mainepotatolady.com/productcart/pc/home.asp

Fedco Seeds has a ton of information in their ”Moose Tubers” catalog and many varieties for seed available.
http://www.fedcoseeds.com/index.htm

Storage and Root Cellars: For more information on root cellars and food storage, get the excellent book Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel, 1991. 

Also check your State Extension Service for information and publications on growing potatoes and other gardening recommendations particular to your region.
http://umaine.edu/publications/2077e/


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32 Comments

  • Fri, Dec 09, 2011 - 11:05pm

    #1
    butterflywoman

    butterflywoman

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    Posts: 9

    good articlei would agree

    good article

    i would agree to rotate every year due to colorado potatoe bug. also would add not to plant tomatoes , egg plant, peppers where last year’s potatoes were as the potatoe bugs love these plants too.

    i plant late(mid june) and let em grow all summer and fall and harvest as late as i can(mid oct). that way i get nice large potatoes,  i dry them on screens for a week or so, then into the root cellar i have under my front porch.my stored potatoes are eatable oct thru june. i could plant an earlier row or two, but usually i want potatoes in the winter as a comfort food.

    i have  heard that placing mulch or grass clippings etc help to deter the potatoe bugs

    the bugs that do show up, daily get flicked into a coffee can of water. if you spot them early and are dilligent, you can usually get rid of them the first cycle they show up.

    the trick is to get the bugs early before they lay more eggs.

    i find potatoes a good crop to trade and when i am invited to dinner, i am always asked to bring my chemical free potatoes! my mashed potatoes at thanksgiving are a tradition.

    i grow yukon gold, red pontiac, and russet

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  • Sat, Dec 10, 2011 - 6:59am

    #2
    Macs

    Macs

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    A resource for UK readers

    I would highly recommend any UK readers to attend GardenOrganic’s ‘Potato Day’ at Ryton Gardens (in Warwickshire). An amazing selection of seed spuds, over 120 varieties available and you can buy them individually, so if you want to try some new varieties you don’t have to commit to a whole kilo of seed. I’ll be there again, for sure! Last year I tried (amongst others) a blue variety, and also the oldest variety still available in the UK which dates back to the early 1800s. Well worth a visit.

    http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/news/news_topic.php

    And whilst you’re there, join the Heritage Seed Library

     

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  • Sat, Dec 10, 2011 - 2:46pm

    #3
    helenarmstrong

    helenarmstrong

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    Potato seed sources

    I would highly recommend getting certified organic seed potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm, 49 Kinney Road, Bridgewater, Maine 04735, phone 800 829 9765, http://www.woodprairie.com.  Their colorful illustrated catalog provides a table of useful information on their entire collection of 17 varieties, and more on soils, organic growing, and storage.

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  • Sat, Dec 10, 2011 - 3:40pm

    #4

    JAG

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    Posts: 240

    Thanks...

    Thanks Woodman for the great write-up. I wish I could use a root cellar down here on the Texas Gulf Coast. 

    Cheers….Jeff

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  • Sat, Dec 10, 2011 - 3:41pm

    #5
    ao

    ao

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    potatoes and potential pain

    Very useful article.  Thanks for taking the time to write it.  I like potatoes and would eat them every day if I didn’t have concerns related to them being nightshades.  While some individuals are not affected at all, other individuals are affected to varying levels (some being mildly sensitive and some being severely sensitive) and can develop arthritic symptoms as a consequence of consuming plants in the Solanaceae family.

    http://noarthritis.com/nightshades.htm

    Just something to consider.

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  • Sat, Dec 10, 2011 - 10:26pm

    #6

    Quercus bicolor

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    potatoes and mammalian predators

    I’ve had problems with my potatotes getting nibbled intensely by moles and other little critters.  Maybe I’ll try the late planting method suggested by butterflywoman as a way to get them out of the ground as soon as the tops die back.  Or maybe I just need to plant early and harvest as soon as they’re ready.

    Also, the purple ones (especially the ones with purple flesh) such as Adirondack Blue are both pretty, tasty and nutritious.

     

    Steve

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  • Sat, Dec 10, 2011 - 11:10pm

    #7

    Mary Aceves

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    what happened?

     My first potato experience was a disaster.  I planted them in plastic tubs, adding more soil as they grew.  They did fine for a while, then they wilted and died.  It was suggested that it was just too hot–we had an awful summer with temps in the triple digits.  I dont think I overwatered and I didnt see any bugs.

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  • Sun, Dec 11, 2011 - 12:34am

    #8

    Grover

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    Posts: 691

    Thanks for the articles

    Woodman,

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article. Your article on extending the home garden harvest was what finally tipped the balance so I joined the site. Thanks.

    I’ve avoided growing potatoes because of their high carbohydrate levels. As you pointed out, that would be a very positive attribute in times of limited food. Your no-till method makes them easy enough to grow, so I’ll likely put some in my garden next year. If the world holds together, I can always donate the majority to a food bank.

    Grover

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  • Sun, Dec 11, 2011 - 1:44am

    Reply to #6
    Nate

    Nate

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    steveyoung wrote:I've had

    [quote=steveyoung]
    I’ve had problems with my potatotes getting nibbled intensely by moles and other little critters.  Maybe I’ll try the late planting method suggested by butterflywoman as a way to get them out of the ground as soon as the tops die back.  Or maybe I just need to plant early and harvest as soon as they’re ready.
    Steve
    [/quote]
    Steve,
    Plant castor beans around your potato patch.  They contain ricin (more toxic than most chemical pesticides) which does a nice job of "controlling" moles.
     
    Woodman,
    Very well done.  Thanks for taking the time and energy for this post.
     
    Nate
     

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  • Mon, Dec 12, 2011 - 12:21am

    #9
    joemanc

    joemanc

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    Thanks!

    Thanks Woodman for the writeup on potatoes. I didn’t get a chance to grow them in my 1st year of gardening this year, but I will try them out next year.

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  • Mon, Dec 12, 2011 - 1:06am

    Reply to #6
    Freebird1st

    Freebird1st

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    Nate wrote:steveyoung

    [quote=Nate]
    [quote=steveyoung]
    I’ve had problems with my potatotes getting nibbled intensely by moles and other little critters.  Maybe I’ll try the late planting method suggested by butterflywoman as a way to get them out of the ground as soon as the tops die back.  Or maybe I just need to plant early and harvest as soon as they’re ready.
    Steve
    [/quote]
    Steve,
    Plant castor beans around your potato patch.  They contain ricin (more toxic than most chemical pesticides) which does a nice job of "controlling" moles.
     
    Woodman,
    Very well done.  Thanks for taking the time and energy for this post.
     
    Nate
     
    [/quote]
     
    Some notes on using Castor bean or mole bean, known as Ricinus communis, at this link.
    http://www.weekendgardener.net/garden-pests/moles.htm
     
     

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  • Mon, Dec 12, 2011 - 5:02am

    #10

    Tom Page

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    Posts: 266

    Thanks for the kind comments

    Thanks for the kind comments and additional information. 

    I wanted to show growing your own potatoes can be really easy.  I’m not a master gardener, just someone experimenting to see what I can produce in the backyard of my 1 acre lot.  

    Wireworms seemed to show up this past season, especially where the potatoes were left in the ground longer.  They make little holes in the tubers.  My chickens love to peck around the potatoe patch now, and I’m hoping they are eating up the larva.  

    http://www.mainepotatoipm.com/ipmfactsheets/wireworm.pdf

    I made french fries tonight that my kids love to eat. Peel and cut some Yukon Gold potatoes into thin sticks and steam about 5 minutes in a covered pan while the oven preheats to about 400F.  Then drizzle with olive oil and salt and seasonings and spread out on a cookie sheet and roast for 20-25 minute or until they are the desired crispiness.  Way better than Mcdonalds.  

    Tom

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  • Mon, Dec 12, 2011 - 6:07am

    #11
    bientum

    bientum

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    Potassium

    Its also a good idea to buy some Potassium fertiliser.  The other two, nitrogren and phosphorous, aren’t really required.  You can also learn to make Potassium fertiliser yourself by taking ash from burnt organic matter or wood.

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  • Mon, Dec 12, 2011 - 6:59am

    #12

    Wayne Grow

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    Simple spud recipe

    Thanks Woodman–great post.  You mentioned recipes.  Our quick, easy, and always yummy home recipe is simple:

    Slice into rounds, put into a high walled pan that you can cover, add rosemary(super easy herb garden plant), your favorite high heat oil(using grape seed or safflower lately), some minced garlic and salt. Let cook until done. 

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  • Tue, Dec 13, 2011 - 1:57am

    Reply to #7
    VeganDB12

    VeganDB12

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    Woodman Thank you for the

    Woodman
    Thank you for the informative article. Maceves, I tried potatoes in a container this year too, they were fingerlings and I kept mounding the dirt as the season progressed. They took off like weeds, then we got a horrid infestation of white fly, some little bug that makes spider web like stuff on the plants, and rust;  in August they leaves just crimpled up and died.
    I only got one layer of potatoes to harvest but oh my goodness, they were the best potatoes I have ever had in my life. Well worth it just for that one meal.
     

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  • Tue, Dec 13, 2011 - 10:48pm

    #13

    Poet

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    In The Garden Next Year!

    Great article, Tom! I didn’t know they could be that easy to grow or store for so long!

    I’m looking forward to trying some in the garden next year.

    Poet

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  • Tue, Mar 19, 2013 - 11:58pm

    #14
    Calamity Jane

    Calamity Jane

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    Will Be In This Year's Garden!

    I'm really looking forward to growing potatoes! I also liked the info on storage, that's very useful!

    Thanks for sharing!

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  • Wed, Mar 20, 2013 - 3:43am

    #15

    Tom Page

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    Posts: 266

    Time to order your seed potatos

    I gald to see this article revived as the time is arriving to plan for this years potatos.  I put in an order last week for 50 lb each of seed potatos for Yukon Gold and Gold Rush ( we eat a lot around here!)  I still have some of these two varieties left from last summer and they have stored well in the root cellar.  I also have a lot of Dark Red Norlands left, but htey got a little soft by December.  I'm saving them for seed this spring.  

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  • Wed, Mar 20, 2013 - 12:59pm

    #16

    Adam Taggart

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    Posts: 2525

    Potato tower

    This year is my first year experimenting with a potato tower, which looks like a pretty efficient way to grow a lot of potatoes on just 4 square feet of ground:

     Image

    (Full article here)

    I planted the first board level a week and a half ago with 3-4 varieties (including German Butterball, Yukon Gold, and a deep purple breed) of seed potatoes picked up at the local farmers market.

    Peeking yesterday showed that the plantings were already sending out roots.

    If all goes as hoped for, this set-up should produce nearly 100lbs of potatoes from this 2x2x4 tower.

    Will report back in several months to describe how the harvest goes.

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  • Wed, Mar 20, 2013 - 1:06pm

    #17

    Wendy S. Delmater

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    ooh! I like this, Adam!

    I am crossposting this potato box  to the Agricutlture & Permaculture group.

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  • Wed, Mar 20, 2013 - 3:22pm

    Reply to #10
    nedwina

    nedwina

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    Wireworms

    Your link didn't work, so I don't know if it mentioned using Beneficial Nematodes for wireworms.  I've been mixing them with water & sprinkling down the area before planting potatoes for the past 2 seasons and it seems to help quite a bit.  Good for grubs in sweet potatoes too. Very nice article.  And you're so right about the German Butterballs!  Thanks!

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  • Thu, Mar 21, 2013 - 2:10am

    #18

    Tom Page

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    Posts: 266

    sweet potatoes

    I ordered some sweet potato slips for the first time.  Baked or steamed, they are very popular with my kids.  Any tips for growing?

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  • Thu, Mar 21, 2013 - 4:27pm

    Reply to #18

    Jason Wiskerchen

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    Posts: 912

    Tips on sweet potatoes

    We grew sweet potatoes for the first time last year.  We had a 4' wide, deeply dug bed, and we planted them about 12" apart.  They like a lot of water when they are first planted, so if you don't get rain, make sure to supplement with plenty of water.  I think we watered ours everyday for about a week, and then slowly tapered off from there (every other day for a while, then every 3 days, etc).  Let them grow as long as possible, a longer growing season means bigger roots.  The sandhill site has some great information on growing them, including some in depth look at heat units.  Lots of varieties to order as well. Good luck!The curing process is a bit different as well for SPs,  a little more care is required. 
    We have started 6 varietes of slip production (jars with toothpicks) this year and also ordered another 6 varieties from sand hill to try some new ones. 
    Good luck and looking forward to hearing how your SP planting goes.
    http://www.sandhillpreservation.com/pages/sweetpotato_catalog.html
     

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  • Fri, Nov 08, 2013 - 8:52pm

    #19

    Sorynn

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    Curing Jersey White Sweet Potato?

    I planted a couple Jersey White Sweet Potatoes straight from the pantry into a potato box, earlier this year.  They seemed to grow well for the season, and I am preparing to harvest them. 

     

    Do any of you know if I should be curing them in a fashion similar to regular sweet potatoes? 

     

     This is only my second year gardening, and I am still quite a rookie.  Any help is greatly appreciated.

     

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  • Wed, Jan 22, 2014 - 7:45am

    Reply to #16

    Grover

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    Posts: 691

    Potato Tower Results?

    Adam,Now that the season is over, how do you rate the tower? Did it meet your expectations? Are you planning to use the towers again next year? Any suggestions/comments for others?
    Grover

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  • Mon, Feb 03, 2014 - 9:49pm

    #20

    Grover

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    Posts: 691

    Potato Tower Results? (Again)

    [quote=Adam Taggart]

    Will report back in several months to describe how the harvest goes.

    [/quote]

    Adam,

    I know you are busy, but the time is quickly approaching to put last year's experience into this year's garden. Could you give a brief review of your experience with the potato tower?

    Thanks, Grover

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  • Tue, Feb 04, 2014 - 3:21am

    Reply to #20
    earthwise

    earthwise

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    Funny you should ask...........

    …………..but I was just thinking the very same thing today.  Anxiously awaiting an update.

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  • Tue, Feb 04, 2014 - 5:01am

    #21

    sand_puppy

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    Posts: 1840

    My Potato Tower Flopped

    Mine didn't do well.  At the end of the season when I tipped it over to get potatoes out there were only potatoes in the bottom layer.  The plant rising through the soil had differentiated into stalk, and were not root-like tissues, and did NOT make potatoes all the way up as hoped.

    My theory is that I should have added dirt in sooner (maybe daily?) and just left a few inches of green showing so that the plant wouldn't have a chance to differentiate into stalk.  But I would love to hear other's thoughts.

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  • Tue, Feb 04, 2014 - 4:01pm

    Reply to #20

    Adam Taggart

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 25 2009

    Posts: 2525

    Failure.......BUT

    My tower had similar results as sand_puppy's. I had a nice yield of potatoes at the bottom layer, but nothing at the higher levels.So, compared to my expectations, this was a bust.
    Reading other websites, there are a lot of first-timers who experienced the same frustration. So is the "potato tower" a cruel hoax?
    I'm not ready to claim defeat. While you have to dig for them, there are enough tidbits for success sprinkled throughout the internet by apparently experienced gardeners that I'm inspired to try again this year.
    Here are the main things I think I did wrong last year:

    Planted varieties poor for vertical sprouting – I planted varieties like Yukon Gold, which it turns out, aren't good for sending out side shoots as the plant grows vertically. Instead, you want "indeterminate" late-season varieties. Here's a list of specific varieties that people claimed success with in the articles I've found online:

    Russet Burbank
    Red Pontiac
    Russian Blue
    Alaska Sweetheart
    Dark Red Norland
    Alturas
    Bannock Russet

    Waited too long before adding more soil – it sounds like if the potato stalk is exposed to air/sun for long, it hardens and won't send out side sprouts. The successful tower growers say to not let the stalk get more than 3 inches high before piling on more dirt. I was so busy last summer with our transition to a new IT firm that my stalks spent weeks in the sun at more than 12 inches on several occasions. I've seen some advice as extreme as saying to pile on dirt as soon as you see leaves (meaning, don't let ANY stalk get above the soil line.)
    "Feed" the soil every 3-4 weeks – I kind of assumed the new soil I was adding periodically had enough nutrients in it. I'm going to be more active about adding (natural) fertilizers this year.
    Cure the slips 2-3 days before planting – I didn't do this last year (I didn't do it this year, either, as I read this after starting this year's tower)

    In addition to the above, make sure the potatoes get plenty of water (I have a drip line spiraling down through my tower).
    Also, I've seen *some* people say that it helps if there are side openings in the tower for the plants to send leaves through. They claim it helps give the plant more energy to produce new spuds. But I've also seen others argue against this. I'm not going to do this given the uncertainty (plus my tower design won't easily allow for side openings without the soil falling out)
    So anyways, I'm trying this again this year and will provide updates on how it goes. I should have results to report in mid-May.
    I'm also growing a few potatoes in the traditional "row" style in one of my raised beds, just to have a basis for comparison. I'll report out any observable differences between the yield of the two methods.
    To sand_puppy and others who unsuccessfully tried a tower last year: if you're willing to give it another go implementing the insights above, please share your results here, too.
    And if you're attempting your first tower this summer, manage your expectations. I hope the guidance here leads you to success, but don't set yourself up for disappointment. At least, not until someone proves this system actually works 🙂
    cheers,
    A
     

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  • Wed, Feb 05, 2014 - 6:48am

    #22

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 691

    One Down ... 10,000 Methods To Try

    Adam, Sand_Puppy,

    I'm sorry your experiments weren't a success. Thanks for the update. As Thomas Edison would likely say, "Now we've eliminated another way not to do it."

    I asked a friend (via e-mail) who grows them in 55 gallon barrels what she does. I haven't heard back. I'll share her insights as soon as I hear.

    Grover

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  • Wed, Feb 05, 2014 - 12:49pm

    #23
    robie robinson

    robie robinson

    Status Gold Member (Online)

    Joined: Aug 25 2009

    Posts: 859

    to one who's long

    in city pent…

    there is yet another way. a straw bale inside a green leaf bag into the bale (about half way into) chits are stuck, wet the bale w/MG or compost tea or…slit the leaf bag so the emerging plants can sun themselves a tomato plant or two can be added as well. plant will produce taters along the stem that is surrounded by the straw.

    robie

     

     

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  • Fri, Feb 07, 2014 - 5:43am

    #24

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 691

    Barrel of Potatoes

    My friend called and related her experiences with growing potatoes in 55 gallon plastic barrels. First off, her soil is very sandy and she has amended it with compost for about 20 years. It is light and fluffy, with moderate fertility and moderate water holding capacity. From what I've read, this is ideal for potatoes. I'm not sure you'd get the same results with a clayey soil.

    She has a friend who works at a place that deals with concrete finishing silicates – it makes the big box store concrete floor shiny. They consider the barrels to be waste and she gets as many as she wants for free. She said the first year, she drilled drain holes in the light blue barrels and planted the potatoes in about a foot of soil. Then, as the plants grew, she used wet straw (I'm thinking this is similar to Robie's method.) She said that the plants grew fine, but spuds only formed in the soil – none in the straw. It didn't work for her so she tried something else.

    The next year, she planted the potatoes in the bottom foot and then added about 4 inches of her well amended soil when the tops extended about 8 inches above the soil level. She did this until the barrel was almost full. She said she got lots of potatoes throughout the barrel, but it was too heavy to tip over, so she just waited for the vines to freeze in the fall and harvested each barrel completely as she ran out of stored spuds.

    The next year, she cut out the bottom of the barrels so they became a sleeve. Her thoughts were that she could slide the barrel up and get at the spuds at the bottom. There was too much soil-to-barrel friction for this idea. She resorted to digging all at one time. She has used this method for the last 3 years. She said if she wants fresh potatoes, she can dig through the soil and get a few without damaging the plant too much.

    She told me that she had heard of the potato tower and was planning to try that method this year. She doesn't remember which potato varieties worked best; although, she does prefer russets because they keep better. I'd say the key take-away I got was to keep burying the tops as the plants grow. I'm not sure this would work too well if you had really clayey soil (like mine.) Once it got too deep, oxygen transfer may become a problem. I'm considering one barrel as an experiment this year.

    On other news, she told me she got a couple of pregnant dwarf Nigerian dairy goats last year. Her chickens were killed by a raccoon and she wanted to try something different. She said they weigh about 50 lbs and each produce about a quart of milk each day. She let the kids nurse during the day and separated them at night so she can milk the mothers in the morning. That way, she can get about a pint from each goat every day. (Her adult son can't drink cow milk.) She makes soft cheese with extra milk. In the fall, she slaughtered the kids and started milking twice a day. Now, she is letting them dry up. They're due to have kids in a month or so. She feeds the goats weeds and greenery most of the year. In winter, she feeds them baled alfalfa. She said a bale lasts almost a month.

    She lives in a lower-end suburb and has converted her entire lot to production. She cuts 55 gallon barrels into thirds and uses those for mini round raised beds. She plants cherry tomatoes next to the sidewalk and invites anyone walking by to pick a few to eat. The neighbors think she's crazy, but in a harmless way. She doesn't care. She can talk to anyone about anything. She's curious about everything. She's a wonderful woman! She's an inspiration to me.

    Grover

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