I have never met anyone who does not like potatoes. It is one of my basic comfort foods - baked/boiled, topped with plain yogurt, roasted cumin, red chili flakes and kosher salt, I am in heaven! Happily, it is one of the most easy vegetables to grow for the home gardener.
Tradition dictates planting potatoes around St. Patrick’s Day (which is that Saturday). But that's not the only time to plant America's favorite root vegetable. Falaah Jones, garden educator at Seattle Tilth recommends following indicators from nature to plan your garden, especially since the weather patterns have been so variable in the last few years.
“Potatoes can go in anytime after the soil is workable and not too wet,” Jones said. "Spring equinox, which is only a few days from St. Patrick’s Day, is a great time to plant cool-season vegetables, like potatoes."
What to plant
Buy your favorite variety of potatoes – organic because it will not be treated with bud-inhibitors, or buy seed potatoes (small in size) from your local garden store. Large potatoes from your kitchen can be used as well, just cut it into smaller pieces, making sure that each piece has at least one ‘eye.’ Jones prefers using seed potatoes because the cut pieces are prone to rot. To prevent rot, they need to be ‘cured’ i.e. place the cut pieces in a warm, dry room for 2-3 days, so that the cut sides become calloused.
I like to ‘chit’ my seed potatoes by placing them in an open egg carton and setting it in a warm, brightly-lit location for a few days. Chiting is the process of letting the potatoes sprout indoors, before planting them outdoors. Pre-sprouting gives them a bit of a jump-start.
Where to plant
Potatoes like rich, well-drained soil and cool weather. They can be grown just about anywhere – in trenches, oak barrels, raised beds, even garbage cans. Planting them in containers with well-drained potting soil and compost gives them a better chance at overcoming rot, compared to planting them in native soil which is still quite damp at this time of the year.
Containers are also perfect for growing potatoes in small sunny spaces, especially apartment balconies and patios. I have had first-rate harvests growing them in burlap bags.
How to plant
Roll down the burlap bag to about 10” and fill in with compost and potting soil to about 6”. Place about 3 potatoes in each bag, with the sprouted eye facing up. Cover with another 2” of compost and water the soil well. When the plants are 6”-8” tall, roll up the burlap, fill in more compost and soil up to 4”, leaving about 2”-4“of plant. Continue this process until the plant starts to flower, usually sometime in July. By the end of summer the potato vines start to wither and die. This signals harvest time, indicating that the potatoes have reached maturity.
Steve Solomon, in his book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades writes, “The flavor and nutritional content of your own crop will be far superior to commercial stuff. And there are home garden varieties that make supermarket potatoes taste like a sad excuse for food.”
Does this inspire you to grow your own potatoes?