It’s no secret that the potato is a game changer. In Irish days of yore, its arrival supplied the impoverished populace with desperately needed nutrition. Its ability to grow in even the poorest soils caused these poor tenants to rely on it to their hurt. When a single potato crop failure led to the Great Potato Famine, a mass exodus from the famine’s death and disease brought many of our Irish ancestors to the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Today, as sensationalist talk radio hosts warn Americans that an economic implosion is imminent, more and more people are seeking the gardening wisdom of their forebears so that surviving – and thriving – is within reach, come what may. One of the most exciting projects for these new gardeners to try is potato growing.
Potatoes have long been hailed for their nutrition and flexibility, both in the garden and in the kitchen. The term “meat and potatoes” illustrates just how much a staple these unassuming tubers have become. If you’ve wondered about growing your own, ponder no longer. Regardless of your green thumb or lack thereof, and even if you have no space to put out a conventional potato patch, you can easily grow potatoes yourself.
There are many ways to grow potatoes; all you really need is at least one potato, some dirt, and the ability to keep it watered. In some cases you’ll need even less than that. Here are ten inventive ways you can grow delicious potatoes that will feed your hunger and store right through the winter – if you can keep from eating them that long. Once you try some of these and learn what works best for you, you can be inventive and come up with even new ways to grow potatoes next year.
The Classic Hill and Dirt Method
The most common way to grow potatoes is by simply digging a straight trench in your well-tilled garden soil. You’ll want to make sure the dirt is quite loose; compacted soil hinders potato yield.
You’ll want to start with certified disease-resistant potatoes to avoid your crop going the way of the Irish Potato Famine. The day before you plant, set your potatoes in a warm, sun-lit location to begin the sprouting process.
When you’re ready to plant, divide the potato into parts no smaller than 1 1/2 inches cubed, each section with at least one “eye” or bud. Place the potato piece in the soft soil and cover it with soil at least three inches of soil, making a hill so that water will collect in the trench between it and the next hill. Continue the process down the row. Plant the potatoes a foot apart.
If you plant very early, the plant that grows may get hit by a frost, but don’t worry; the plant underground will continue to grow. As the plant grows, use your hoe to mound more soil up around the stems, leaving the leaves exposed to the sunlight.
A few fast facts about planting potatoes in hills:
• The classic method that’s been used throughout history
• Great for large-scale crops
• Doesn’t always provide stellar yields
• Takes no special equipment
An especially prolific method of growing potatoes is by using raised beds. In this method, potatoes grow large and abundant.
To make a raised potato bed, simply prepare a frame for your raised bed and fill the bottom with loose, rich soil. Place your potato pieces on the soil 12 inches apart and shovel more dirt on top of them three inches deep. As the plants grow, continue to fill in the bed with rich garden soil.
Fast facts about planting in raised potato beds:
• Best method for bumper yields
• Requires a large amount of extra soil; don’t underestimate how much you’ll need
• Nice for areas with less-than optimal soil
If you aren’t able to locate enough topsoil to make the raised bed garden work, an alternative method is to use leaves as mulch to cover the plants in place of the soil. Oak leaves provide a smidgen of acidity to the soil, which can benefit the potatoes. Simply scratch the soil and place the potatoes onto the bare ground. Cover them heavily with leaves, at least six inches deep. Toss a few shovelfuls of dirt on top to weigh down the leaves and prevent them from blowing away.
The leaves MUST be kept moistened. As the plants begin to grow, add more leaves just as with the other methods. When the harvest rolls around, you’ll love being able to reach under the leaves and pull out your harvest without shoveling or digging.
Fast facts about using leaf mulch:
• A great way to use extra leaves
• Must be kept watered
• Requires additional leaves to keep light from reaching new potatoes
Garbage Bag Potatoes
Don’t need a large potato harvest? Try growing a bag of potatoes – in a trash bag!
Simply prepare your potatoes, grab a 30-pound trash bag and cut a few drainage holes in the bottom. Roll down the sides of the bag and fill it with about five inches of potting soil. Bury the potatoes about three inches deep in the soil. Water it and set the bag in a sunny place.
As the potato plants grow, add more soil to the bag so that only the leaves are exposed. Remember to water them just enough to keep the soil moist, not soaked.
Once the foliage turns yellow, the plants are ready to harvest. Simply cut open the side of the bag, break up the dirt, and retrieve your potatoes.
Fast facts about planting potatoes in a garbage bag:
• Great for those who can’t plant directly in the ground, like apartment dwellers
• Not the most attractive arrangement
• Black bags heat the soil and make for a quicker harvest
Post Hole Potatoes
With a post hole digger, dig 18-inch holes every 15 inches. In the bottom of each hole, dump six inches of chicken manure. On top of that, add six to eight inches of mulch, and place the seed potato over the mulch. Cover the potato with soil and continue to add soil as the plant grows, leaving the leaves exposed.
Fast facts about post hole potato planting:
• Heat generated by manure allows for earlier planting, even as early as January
• Early, abundant harvest
• Works for large crops or small
This is a variation of the other methods; by fashioning a round mesh cage out of chicken wire or other metal mesh, you can enjoy an easy vertical potato patch. As in the other methods, place the prepped seed potato on bare soil, cover it with moistened organic matter, and add to it as the potato plant grows.
To harvest, simply lift the mesh cylinder and retrieve your potatoes from the soil.
Fast facts about planting potatoes in a mesh cylinder:
• Requires faithful watering
• Good for locations with only rocky, compacted soil
• Wire mesh allows for great drainage
Commercial grow bags, designed from black polypropylene, make it possible to grow potatoes on your patio or driveway. Simply add composted soil to the bottom of the bag, add the seed potatoes, and cover them with three inches of dirt and add soil as you would in the other methods.
• Compost and heavy, black bag encourage warm soil and quicker, bigger harvests
• Grow bags can be pricey
• Harvest by dumping out bag
Straw Mulch Potatoes
Performed just like the Leaf Blanket method, the straw mulch method allows you to harvest your potatoes almost entirely dirt-free. Make sure to keep the straw thick and watered to keep the plants alive and growing.
• Requires careful watering
• Straw can hide rodents who will eat your potatoes
• Decreases the threat of the Colorado Potato Beetle
Tire Tower Potatoes
Got a few old tires laying around? Make a tater tower!
Start with a single tire; plant the potato in the center of the tire on the bare earth. Cover it with soil up to the inside rim of the tire. As the plant grows, add more tires and more dirt. Harvest is simple; just tear down your tower and pick up your potatoes.
Fast facts about planting taters in a tire tower:
• Chemicals from the tires can potentially leach in to the potatoes, so keep that in mind
• Will need regular watering
• Allows for crop rotation since certain crops do poorly near potatoes
5 Gallon Bucket
If space is at a premium but you really want to try growing potatoes, you can simply use a five gallon bucket. Find a sunny spot, and add three inches of soil. Place your potatoes, eyes up, on the soil, and add a couple more inches of soil. Keep them in the sun, keep them watered, and keep adding soil as they grow.
Fast facts about planting potatoes in a five-gallon bucket:
• Make sure to drill a few drainage holes into the bottom of the bucket
• If you have no way of drilling holes, add a layer of pebbles to the bottom of the bucket for drainage
• Too much water and too little water are two big mistakes in growing potatoes
It’s Your Turn.
So, what grand idea will you employ in your potato planting this year? Whatever innovation you attempt, keep in mind the following MUSTS to enjoy a bumper tater crop.
1. Start with certified disease-free potatoes.
2. Leave them in the sun for a day to begin the sprouting process.
3. Cut them into 1 1/2 segments, each with an eye or two.
4. Leave the cut pieces in the sun for several hours – up to a day – to ensure optimum sprouting prep.
5. Place the potatoes on the soil EYE SIDE UP.
6. Keep the potato covered with about three inches of soil.
7. Add soil as the plant grows, keeping only the leaves exposed.
8. Keep the plants moist. Potatoes require water to grow.
9. Avoid overwatering; drainage is vital to avoid discovering you’ve got a bumper crop of mush.
10. Carefully dig up any potatoes when you harvest. Try to never puncture the skin with a spade or digging fork to keep the potatoes fresh and unspoiled.