We love potatoes. Like corn, tomatoes and peppers, they are a family meal staple around our house. Potatoes are not that difficult to grow, but preparing the soil does take a bit of work. The toil is worth it in the long run. After waiting months for your tubers to grow, it’s a lot of fun for kids—and adults--to dig up a batch of potatoes.
One of my earliest childhood memories was digging for potatoes with my grandfather in Muskogee, Oklahoma. I was quite surprised to see them in the dirt and not growing on trees. I was barely three years old, but I still remember the image of red-skinned taters peeking through the dirt.
Me and Big Tom, 1959. My grandparents had a huge garden of corn, green beans, squash, berries, okra, potatoes and peppers. I have always tried to emulate his garden and I describe it my first novel Roads of My Relations (University of Arizona Press).
How To Grow Potatoes (My version---there are other ways to garden. See links at bottom of page.)
The site on the south side of our Kansas property where I alternate growing potatoes and the Three Sisters. I now have a greenhouse on this site.
You also can use smaller mounds, like above, or you can use a bag that drains, like below (I bought my bags at gardeners.com:
1. First, prepare the soil in mid to late spring or in late summer (the potato plants don’t like to try and grow in hot months). They will be ready in 2-4 months. Pick a sunny, well-drained spot. I dug down two feet into the ground and thoroughly mixed that existing soil with sand, cotton burr compost (high in nutrients and helps to break up hard soil), and Miracle Grow potting soil.* Use enough of the additional soil materials to make 6-8 separate mounds about a foot high. Use a pitchfork to mix the material and a shovel to pile it.***
*You can purchase all of these materials at Home Depot or another large store that sells garden supplies. Nurseries are generally more expensive.
**Some growers simply lay their potato seed on the ground and cover with soil. That’s not the best way, but it may work for you.
You also can plant potatoes in a whiskey barrel or another large container that has drainage holes in the bottom.
Some prefer to use a stack of old tires and the plant the potatoes in the middle.
2. Pick your potato. We like Yukon Golds. Regardless of your choice, you should buy them from a nursery and not the grocery store (they often add growth inhibitor to the spuds). Locate the “eyes” on the potato skin (the eyes are the knotty growths you probably have noticed sprouting when you keep them in your kitchen too long), then cut your unpeeled potato into chunks (some call these chunks “seeds”), with at least two eyes on each piece.
3. Bury your chunks in the mounds with eyes “looking” upwards, about 4 inches deep. Some recommend 6 inches.
4. To combat weeds and grass, lay down black garden matting* between the mounds and secure at the corners with metal garden staples. Pour cedar or cypress mulch over the black mat. The mulch also keeps moisture in the soil.
*Sold in rolls at any store with gardening materials such as Home Depot, Ace Hardware, etc. It is cheaper at these stores than at nurseries. See also this mat sold at Gardeners.com: http://www.gardeners.com/Weed%20Mat%20Landscape%20Fabric/VegetableGardening_Mulches,34-312,default,cp.html
5. Check to make sure that soil does not erode on the mounds. You may need to continually pile new soil onto the base of the plants so that your growing potatoes are always covered.
6. Make sure your plants get about 1 inch of water per week.
7. It is time to harvest the potatoes when the green stems fade, approximately 2-4 month after you plant the chunks. You may notice that some of the stems have small growths that look like little green tomatoes. This is how the plant reseeds. Although they look like tomatoes, don’t eat them.
8. When you decide to harvest the tubers, gently push the soil away from around the base of the stems with your gloved hands, then slowly pull the stems out of the ground. Don’t use a spade, shovel or pitchfork, since you’ll stab the potatoes and ruin them for storage. Take the tubers out with your hands. Some advise cutting the plants off at ground level about a week before removing tubers from the ground. It doesn’t matter to me; I usually find more hidden potatoes the week after the initial harvest anyway.
Mid-May, 2008. Three mounds were planted two weeks after the first four (I ran out of potatoes and had to search around town for more Yukons). Note the cedar mulch piled around the mounds. I first put down black garden cloth/matting to inhibit weeds and grass, then piled the mulch on top. Grass is very determined and you still have to pull it out constantly.
Late June 2008. Looking good (as do the invasive sunflower plants and grass), although some of the leaf tips are starting to yellow a bit.
July 20, 2008. The plants have pooped out.
Morning of July 20. We moved dirt away from the base of the plants with our hands, gently pulled them out of the ground and dug around in the dirt for hidden tubers.
Here are some of those Yukon Gold potatoes.
Nicely stored in a Nike shoebox. Gently wash your potatoes without damaging the skin, let them dry thoroughly, then store them in brown paper sacks or cardboard boxes in a cool place, such as the cement floor of a basement. Don’t let them get damp. You may need to get them off a damp floor and onto shelves or wooden slats. Also, do not store damaged potatoes; eat the ones that are cut, split or punctured after you harvest them. Wounded potatoes will quickly rot.
There are many sites in cyberspace that offer advice about growing potatoes. Check these out:
Grow potatoes in “tyres”:
Grow Potatoes in a Garbage Can:
Irish Eyes Garden Seeds:
Growing Sweet Potatoes:
Growing Potatoes (New Hampshire Extension):
U-Tube. Growing Potatoes No Dig
Video. Growing Potatoes with Charlie Dimmock
Growing Potatoes Organically From Seed to Storage:
(more detail than you may need)