Saturday, March 23, 2013

Even if you only have a patio, you can grow potatoes

Drawing of a potato grow bag
Saturday, March 23, 2013

If you love potatoes, try growing some of the exotic varieties that are out there, like fingerling or blue potatoes.  You can find all kinds of great varieties in todays seed catalogs.  Along with the surprising number of different kinds of seed potatoes available, there are also many different ways to grow them without actually planting in the garden!

The potato is a native of South America and can be found in the wild from North America to Chile.  There is an amazing variety of potatoes grown in South America, many color and sizes.  It originated from an area in southern Peru/northwest Bolivia.  It was cultivated 7000-10000 years ago.  It took until the 1700’s for the potato to arrive in the colonies by the way of Irish immigrants.

Tubers are good source of fiber, B vitamins (B6, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, folates), vitamin C, and minerals iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, and copper.  Potato nutritional info  Most of the nutrition is in the skin.  If you want even more nutrition, try some of the wonderful colors available today.  Nutrition info for blue and yellow potatoes 

Potato plants produce tubers along the stem so the more you can build up soil around the stem, the more potatoes you will harvest.  Since most of the action of potatoes occur underground, a light, well drained soil will give the highest yield of potatoes.  Adding sand and compost can be very beneficial.   

If gardening in a small space, there are lots of options of potato growing bags on the market now.  It follows the same concept as trenching or mounding in a garden bed.  They also do well in repurposed whisky barrels.  A pot 30”deep and 20” across is best.  Fill a third with potting soil, then add soil as the vine grows.

To give your potatoes plenty of loose, rich soil in a garden bed, dig a trench down about a foot, mix in compost, put mixed soil and compost 4" in bottom of trench and place eyes up in the trench.   Plant seed potatoes 3” deep and 10-12” apart.   When the potatoes have leaves showing, add another 3-4" of soil.  Continue to add as potatoes grow until trench is filled.  If planting in hard soil, you can mound the earth, mulch or straw around the plant as it grows.
Seed potatoes should be planted 2-3 weeks before the last frost (when the early daffodils bloom).  You can plant successively to extend the harvest until the dogwoods bloom.  You can continue to plant until May, but may only get fingerling size potatoes before the vines die back in the summer.

Early potatoes can be harvested when the first flowers appear.  Dig the potatoes when the foliage has died back in the summer.  Do not allow the baby potatoes to be exposed to sunlight.  If your potatoes turn green, do not eat them as they are poisonous.

You can grow potatoes from the “eyes” of store bought potatoes.  The risk is putting any disease they may have into your soil.  Many recommend to always buy sterile seed potatoes.  To be safe, I am sticking with sterile seed potatoes for garden beds.  If you are growing in a pot or potato growing bag, you could try using store bought eyes.  Let your potatoes age and when they start sprouting, they are ready to cut and plant.  Be sure to cut out a sprout, or "eye", to plant.  A plant will emerge from each sprouted eye.

I have a perennial blue potato, Ecos, that has survived 3 winters now.  I also planted blue seed potatoes this spring.  The first leaves have emerged.  I'll continue to mound mulch around them through the season to maximize the harvest.

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