Why grow your own potatoes when they are so cheap to buy? First, organic potatoes aren’t so cheap, and when chemicals are used they tend to concentrate in the spuds. Second, any vegetable you grow yourself tastes better. Third, growing potatoes is easy and fun.
This is only our third year growing potatoes, and we’re trying some new techniques. This morning we took two 18-inch-in-diameter, 5-foot-tall wire cages that we’ve used for other crops and cut them in two to create four potato towers. We wiped them with a bleach solution to eliminate past pathogens and placed them next to each other after digging out some of the soil. We wrapped old burlap around three of them (we ran out of burlap, so the fourth became an experiment in putting a straw “nest” around the sides). We put about six inches of the soil, plus compost, at the bottom of each tower.
We had previously bought about five pounds of seed potatoes, of the Kennebec and Superior varieties. We put them in egg cartons on a sunny porch for several days to develop sprouts (called “chitting”) and two days ago we cut them into 1-2-inch sections. Today we placed three of these sections, with the sprouts facing out, inside each tower, on the soil/compost mixture, and covered them with straw of about four inches deep. Then we layered more soil and compost, plus a little sand, put in three more potato sections, and covered with straw. Then we gave them all a thorough watering. As the potatoes grow, we’ll layer more straw and soil to keep them away from the sun.
We used up about half of our potato sections. Tomorrow I will go to our community garden plot and plant the rest of them in two beds the traditional way (one of those beds I kept wood ashes out of, because potatoes like a slightly acid soil). I’ll dig two shallow trenches in each 3×8-foot bed and plant the potato sections 12-14 inches apart, then cover them up. Later in the summer, I’ll hill the soil around them to keep the potatoes from the sunlight.
When the potatoes start to flower, I’ll pinch these off so the plant can put all its energy into growing the tuber. And I’ll watch out for the Colorado Potato Beetle, which isn’t as quick or as disease-spreading as the Cucumber Beetle, and can be easily picked off. When the foliage dies back, it’s time to harvest the potatoes and prepare them for storage.
At that time, I’ll report in this blog how the potato towers did in comparison to the ones planted the traditional way.