Updated: Mar 21
Home grown potatoes are excellent. We may say this a lot, but it's true! Up there with tomatoes, onions, (most other things) store bought just can't hold a candle to home grown potatoes. Plus while you're roasting up those little beauties you'll be darn proud of yourself for growing them! I like that in a meal.
First off, quick anatomy lesson: Potatoes are not roots, but actually off shoots of stem called tubers. They are chock full of vitamins and minerals when prepared right (eat the skin folks, eat-the-skin!) and they're a great carb choice.
In this post we will be brief (ish). Potatoes are a cool to warm season crop and planting is fast upon us so we want to give you the skinny so you can jump on it (lasso-dance). Mid Feb to March is the time. One golden perk of these is that if you don't have a formal garden bed, potatoes are awesome grown in barrels, buckets, large grow sacks, anything with drainage, because of the way you mound up the soil as they grow. More on that later. So off we go:
-Potatoes grow from small potatoes, or pieces of larger ones. Don't use stuff from the store, they're treated with sprout inhibiters, so these need to come from the garden center. When choosing your seed potatoes keep in mind that, in general, white taste better, red store the better, and yellow are awesome. I'll put some variety options at the bottom of the page.
-Once you have your seed potatoes, sprout them a bit. It's called chitting. Just lay them somewhere light and warm, like laid out on a tray (single layer, spaced apart) in a window or the porch for up to 2 weeks. Once you see little sprouts you can cut and prep them. Sprouting your potatoes a little give them a quicker start, but skipping this step will still get you potatoes.
-Once sprouted, carefully cut into large egg sized pieces, or leave small ones whole. Dust with dusting sulfur (optional) if you wish to increase health and nutrients and prevent disease, and let them sit for 2 more days. This allows the cuts to dry and callous over. Now they're ready!
-Fall planting tip: Only use small whole potatoes without cutting to prevent them from rotting in the heat.
-Potatoes are a bit different in how they're planted, which is pretty fun and great for kids! In a sunny spot, fill your barrel just half way up, and fertilize your soil 2 inches below where the seeds will be to give them a good start. We stick with organic fertilizers like MicroLife. Plant seeds pieces about 10 inches apart in your big container and cover with only an inch or so of soil. (Potatoes planted closer together will produce small potatoes, maybe that's what you're going for. If planting in a raised garden bed then dig a trench at least 4-6 inches deep and place seed potatoes and cover with a couple of inches of soil.
-When the seedling is about 4-6 inches high, carefully add more soil and mound it up around the plant stems. Repeat this process every so often until your barrel is full! Potatoes grow along the stems above the original seed. Picture a Christmas tree. with the base as the seed, potato ornaments all the way up the stem, and a really big the star top showing above the ground.
Some folks use soft mulch or compost for this, because a looser mix will produce rounder smoother potatoes than heavy or lumpy soils.
-Potatoes plants need consistent water to grow nice potatoes. Too little and they'll shrivel, then too much and they'll split or divide into multi-lump tubers.
-For vigorous healthy plants, give them a fertilizer side dressing when they're 6-8" high, and water it in.
-Keep in mind that the tops are not frost hardy, so be prepared to cover should a freeze strike.
-If potatoes show up at the surface, be sure to cover them up with more soil! Light will turn potatoes green, which is not what you want. A little can be peeled away, but lots of green isn't healthy. (On potatoes that is.)
-Potatoes mature around 3 to 4 months after planting, depending on if you pre-sprouted them or not. Baby or "new" potatoes can be harvested sooner, by gently unearthing them with your fingers. Young potatoes will have delicate skin that can rub off with your thumb.
-When the tops begin to die back and flop over, don't panic! They're ready. You can check by testing a potatoes to see if the skin is more set and firm.
-Here's harvesting 3-ways: Either gently dump out the entire barrel and gather, gently lift one plant at a time with a pitch-fork beginning away from the plant being careful not to pierce any tubers, or gently dig tubers out with your hands or a spade. Did I mention gently? If they're damaged they will spoil quite quickly.
-Do not wash your potatoes! Dry them on the porch for a few days, brush off any loose soil, and store them in a cool dark place. Check them once in a while to ensure they're staying fresh.
Or cook them up right away because you're bursting with pride and can't wait to display your tuberous triumph at the table!
There you have it! Potatoes in a barrel (or a bathtub) really anyone can grow them, and kids have a riot mounding on more soil and digging them up with their hands. Below are a few varieties that are good for our area. Pot a few up, and show us your projects and harvests with #lettucegrowsomething. Come grow with us! We'll all be proud of it.
Varieties: Remember that whites cook up the best, but reds store better. Most gardeners plant some of both, and eat the whites first.
- Red: Norland, Red LaSoda
- White: Gemchip, Superior
- Yellow: Yukon Gold, a crowd favorite to be sure!
- Russet Century Russet, Russet Norkatah, good bakers.
Happy Gardening Folks! If you would like some help or some muscle, we can coach you or help plan for the garden you have, or take care of an entirely new bed installation. Follow this link to schedule and we would love to help you! CLICK HERE TO SCHEDULE
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