When planning our summer gardens, homegrown tomatoes get all the glory. Pages and pages of tomato varieties fill catalogs, centerfolds of lush summer fruit.
But potatoes deserve more love.
Once you've grown your own potatoes, you'll never want to eat bland store-bought spuds again.
Honestly, why choose run-of-the-mill Russets when you can feast on French Fingerlings or savor Sangre? Along with beautiful, delicious varieties enticing you to grow your own, you also can harvest early to enjoy new potatoes, while allowing the vines to continue to produce larger potatoes for late season enjoyment or storage.
When I first considered growing potatoes, I worried that the crop would occupy too much space in our garden. After all, our kitchen garden's sunny space is at a premium, since our property is heavily forested. So, for my first attempt at growing potatoes, I chose to use Grow Bags.
Grow Bags are fabric bags that function like a pot, allowing you to adjust the height by folding down the sides, and then unfolding them and adding soil as the plants grow. The beauty of Grow Bags is that water easily drains through the bag, helping to avoid soggy soil. The fabric bag allows good air circulation, helping regulate soil temperature. Additionally, the bags can be positioned on patios, balconies, or any sunny patch in your garden. I place our bags strategically to capture as much sun as possible.
Last year, with the construction of the raised beds for our kitchen garden, I decided to devote one of the beds to potatoes. Everything began beautifully. Perfect soil, lovely sprouts, and then suddenly--the vines died. Yes, I didn't think about adding a bottom layer of wire mesh when building the raised beds to keep out my arch nemesis...the vole. I know better, too. Those nasty creatures ate every potato.
This year, I'm back to the Grow Bags, which I purchased through Gardener's Supply. (I've also seen several people use burlap bags instead of Grow Bags, which might not be quite as sturdy, but it seems like a good, cost-effective option. Honestly? You can grow potatoes in any large container that drains well.) I found this cute option when on a garden tour last year at Sunnyside Cafe, where they grow a large kitchen garden to support the restaurant:
Whichever method you decide, you need to grow potatoes. Trust me.** **
Decide which varieties to grow and order early. Seed Savers Exchange, Sow True Seeds, Territorial Seeds, and Grow Organic are a few excellent sources for seed potatoes. You can also find seed potatoes in your local feed and seed shop.
Some gardeners pooh-pooh the purchase of seed potatoes and use sprouted potatoes from the pantry. However, certified organically grown seed potatoes help reduce the risk of diseases in your crop, plus you'll know that you're planting potatoes that are chemical-free.
If you're planting potatoes in bags or containers, you may want to recruit a friend to share seed potatoes so you can have a good variety without incurring too much expense. One pound of seed potatoes can yield approximately 10-15 pounds of potatoes to harvest under ideal conditions.
Seed potatoes should be firm with good “eyes” or buds. Cut seed potatoes into 2-inch pieces, making certain that each piece has at least one eye. Allow the cut surfaces to heal, or callous, for two days prior to planting, which helps eliminate rotting in cold, moist soil. You can directly plant small seed potatoes.** **
In our zone 7b garden, St. Patrick's Day is considered a good time to plant potatoes. Generally, late winter is ideal for planting, as potatoes will tolerate light frost. Hard freezes, though, will delay growth and can damage vines. Potatoes prefer a cool spring with adequate moisture and soil temperatures between 60-70 degrees. Tubers don't form when soil temperatures exceed 80 degrees, so plant early.
Fold the sides down on your Grow Bag, making a 4 inch cuff. Fill the bag with approximately 4 inches of high quality soil. Potatoes thrive in soil with a pH between 5.8 and 6.5, so a soil test is always a good idea. They're heavy feeders, preferring a soil rich in phosphorus.
Plant the seed pieces cut side down/eye up on top of the soil, spacing the pieces approximately 12 inches apart. Don't overcrowd. (It's my worst habit. More is not always better.)
Cover the seed potato pieces with three inches of soil and water well. Add a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer approximately 6 weeks after planting, when the tubers are beginning to form.** **
As the potato vines grow, maintain a good watering routine, particularly when blossoms form. Remove any weeds, which should be minimal in Grow Bags or containers. As the vines reach approximately 8 inches in height, add an additional layer of soil over the potatoes to avoid exposure to the sun, which causes scalding/green potatoes. Green parts of potatoes contain an alkaloid that's poisonous, causing the potato to taste bitter. Remove any green portions of potatoes before using.
After the vines grow an additional 8 inches, unfold the bag, add another 3 to 4 inches of soil, and water well.** **
Potatoes mature approximately 100 to 120 days after planting. If you want to eat fresh new potatoes, you can harvest a few small early potatoes, leaving the vines intact for continued growth. After the vines have died, it's time to harvest the main crop.
The best part of using a container or Grow Bag is the ease of harvest. We turn our bags over into a wheelbarrow, and the kids root around to remove the potatoes. When we're through, we wheel the soil over to the compost bin. Clean and simple!** **
Late potatoes are best for storing. Place them in a cool, 40-50 degree area with high humidity, and they should last 6 to 8 months.** **
Mashed, fried, boiled, roasted, hobo, gratin...so many choices! Still, one of our favorite ways to prepare potatoes is making Rösti...Peter's yummy recipe brought with him from Switzerland. Basically, Rösti is like a giant potato pancake, or hash browns formed into a big, yummy, crispy round cake of deliciousness. The secret ingredient? Bacon. You can't go wrong with bacon and potatoes!** **
- 1 lb. Potatoes, peeled and shredded
- 1/2 lb. Bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tbsp. butter
- salt and pepper to taste.
1.Fry bacon, set aside.
2. Add 2 tbsp. butter to hot skillet, thoroughly coating the surface. (You may need to add more if potatoes stick.)
3. Add potatoes and cooked bacon, salt and pepper, stirring in skillet to mix bacon into potatoes well.
4. Form potatoes and bacon mixture into a large “cake” in the skillet, allowing the mixture to brown well, approximately 8-10 minutes.
5. With nerves of steel and a limber wrist, flip the cake in the skillet. (Peter is the flipper...I always end up make a mess of it.)
6. Allow second side to brown, approximately 5-7 minutes.
7. Slide onto plate and serve.
Really...you need to plant potatoes, just so you can enjoy Rösti.
This post was shared with Wildcrafting Wednesday. Check out some other great blogs and ideas here.
Part of the Backyard Farming Connection blog hop!