Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Planting Praties

They say planting potatoes in our corner of the universe should take place around St. Patrick's day. I was one day off, but very pleased to have potatoes in the ground. Potatoes are easy to grow and being able to gather them outside your door is one of the greatest benefits of gardening. We were still digging up potatoes through most of the winter. They stored in the ground.

Root crops thrive in a loose soil and potatoes are heavy feeders, so I'm giving them the best I've got, a strip of vegetable bed that was filled in with great soil behind a retaining wall. I tried something a little different this year to spur growth: I spread my potato sets in seed trays and left them out in the sun for several days. The potatoes began to shrivel, but soon enough new shoots began to emerge from the "eyes."

Potatoes don't plant from seed but rather from other potatoes. Our farmer friend Mike Klein recently delivered four varieties. Look for a "set" with at least three "eyes." The larger spuds can usually be cut in half or into pieces, which just means more potato plants.

My method for planting is to make a small hole with a trowel and place the set with the cut side down, to a depth of about two inches below the surface. I space the sets 15 inches apart, planting them in offset rows in a diamond pattern.

Potatoes aren't really roots but a form of stem growth. They will grow up along the plant stem if the plant is covered. Once these plants are tall enough, I will mound soil around them to encourage the growth of additional spuds. Another fascinating way to grow potatoes is inside an automobile tire, stacking the tires higher and higher as the plants grow and adding more soil as the stack gets taller. As you cover most of the plant with soil, it simply grows taller, producing more leaves. You can even start a system like this over bare concrete.

A stack of used tires painted bright colors and producing lots of potatoes is a great idea for a school garden. In other words, there is no excuse for not growing your own praties.


Leslie said...

As a first time potato grower I've got a question...I've got mine in pots (big black nursery pots) and thought I needed to cover the plants with straw as they grew...which I have yet to come up with and the plants are growing. So are you saying I can just cover them with more soil? That would be much easier at this point! Thanks for any help!

Ed Bruske said...

Yes, you can mound soil or compost around the plant, leaving the top leaves exposed.

Leslie said...

Thanks so much! I'll do it later today!

<> WeekendFarmer <> said...

Ed - bit confused...isnt your ground still frozen...too cold to dig and put potatoes in the ground? We didnt have the tulips up it possible you are ahead of us in gardening season? Greetings from Japan!

Ed Bruske said...

WF, were never experienced a really hard freeze in our soil this winter. Maybe some intermittant freezes. The soil has been workable for some time now. Here in the District of Columbia, the daffodils are in full bloom, we've already seen the crocuses, the forsythia are out as well as many of the flowering trees and the tulips are pushing up buds.