Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Growing Tons of 'Taters in 10 Easy Steps!

It's only April 7th, but the garden is getting into full swing. (Excuse #5 for my most recent absence from the blog)  All the potatoes are in the ground and finally peaking their little heads out of the soil.  I'm trying something different this year with a few of my purple potatoes - growing them large, black new garbage cans on the patio.  I can't remember where I got the idea from, but it's super easy to do!  I bought seed potatoes this year from Big Lots and Lowes...and used some sprouting Russet ones we had here. :)  (And for those who are wondering, this site is in no way affiliated with Big Lots or Lowes.) Last year growing potatoes in our 1st-year-tilled-red-clay-yard-crappy-soil-garden was a bust.  This year we've added several soil amendments and it's looking much more promising.  This season we are trying several different types of potatoes to see how we like them.  We are growing the Adirondack Blue Potato, Russet Burbank Potato, Yukon Gold Potato, Red Norland Potato, and again, whatever Russet kind we had that was sprouting in the pantry.  Eh, why not? ;)

So here's how we did it:

Step 1: Obtain seed potatoes and cut the potatoes into chunks (pieces), with at least one "eye" on each chunk (piece). Allow these pieces to dry for about 24 hrs to help reduce the chances of them rotting when you plant them.

Step 2: Obtain large, black (or dark) garbage cans. We bought new ones
from the dollar store.  If you already have garbage cans, you know what they've been used for previously, and you've cleaned and sterilized them well, then I suppose you could use them if you wish.  I believe I read somewhere that you can also use those galvanized metal cans, but research that to make sure it's safe before you do it.  Really, you can use any large, plastic container as long as it's food safe and can be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.  Potatoes do grow in DIRT after all.. We're using 3 new large, black plastic garbage cans.

Step 3: Drill several good-sized holes in the bottoms of your containers.

Step 4: Potatoes like their soil slightly acidic so mixing the soil with some leaf compost or a small amount of pine straw should take care of that.  I've grown them in the ground without either of these amendments before and they've done just fine.  So, add about 6 inches or so of a good, friable soil to the cans.

Step 5: Take your cut seed potatoes and add 2 or 3 of the potato eye pieces with the eye or sprout facing upright to the top of the soil,  spacing them about 12 inches apart.  Just eyeball it if you have to, keeping the potato pieces as far apart as you can to give them all room to grow in this space.

Step 6: Now add about 4 to 6 inches of good soil into the container,  making sure you cover the potatoes well.

Step 7: Place the garbage cans or whatever container you're using up on 
blocks, bricks, wood, or whatever you have to keep the containers off the ground for good drainage.

Step 8: Water your potatoes enough to get the soil damp throughout, but not enough to leave them sitting in soggy soil.  Your soil drainage should be such that most of the water will drain out the bottom leaving the soil moist, but not soggy.

Step 9: Sit and watch them grow!  Seriously folks, this is akin to waiting for water to boil.  Give it about a week or so and before long, you'll see the sprouts peeking through the surface of the soil. When the sprouts grow to about 6 inches over the soil, cover them with good soil again leaving a couple of inches of the plant uncovered. Water periodically and lightly fertilize occasionally (I use diluted fish emulsion), but again, do not water so much or so often that the plants are sitting in wet, soggy soil for long periods.  Repeat this process until your plants start flowering.

Step 10: Once your potato plants flower, do not water any more.  Move the containers to a place where the plants will dry and wilt and soil will dry out, and allow your potatoes to "cure" for a few weeks to enable them to store longer after harvesting.  After this, harvest and enjoy!

Edit:  Unfortunately this method was an epic fail this year.  This works great in a warm, DRY climate, but here in 'Bama...not so much.  Even with the "drought" it has just been too wet here for this method.  I was able to grow a few potatoes out in the garden, but even most of those simply would. not. grow.  The plants grew to about 6 inches tall and just stopped.  I'm also hearing much the same from other gardeners in the area as well.  Well, there's always next year!  (hopefully...) :)

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