Growing Potatoes

Growing Potatoes has got to be about one of the easiest vegetables to plant in your garden. Of course, everything that I plant is an heirloom organic because there is just no way I am going to help support Monsanto and their genetically modified nightmares. I like to save my seeds and that is something that you can not do with hybrids or GMO’s.

Growing potatoes is a lot easier than some other garden plants. They are not as finicky or persnickety as tomatoes. They don’t need to be staked up and they are not deterred by the heat and humidity here in the Mid-South. There is one caveat however, they don’t do well clay, but then again what does? So if you live in a region where there is clay and no topsoil, then you are going to have to build a raised bed or get creative if you are going to cultivate these delicious tubers.

This year I have decided to try something a little different. I have been intrigued by some of the results that I have seen my friends around the country achieve with growing in various containers and grow bags. Last Winter I had the idea to build three large raised beds and use four foot high wire fencing and then lining the side with landscape fabric and just keep adding mulch as they grew. I knew I would have to begin on a raised bed foundation to get the needed drainage they would require but as I began pricing metal fencing, I quickly dismissed that option. Buying new plastic trash cans and then spending my time drilling in a bunch of drainage holes did not make a lot of sense to me.

Since I had already begun using hydroponics grow bags for many of my vegetables this year, I decided to use what I had left over and experiment with my heirloom potatoes as well. These bags have a black interior and a white exterior and are 6 ply thick and come with about a dozen or so holes in the bottom to allow for drainage.

I put in about six inches of white sand into the bottom of the bag. The bags tended to be a bit unruly and did not want to stand up very well, so I just rolled the top down a few inches to make it easier to deal with. After I had all the heirloom potatoes chitted and ready to plant, I laid the seed potatoes on the sand and then covered them with a few inches of compost that I had made over the winter in my raised beds.

As you can see by the accompanying photos they have taken right off. Now that they have grown up, it is time to add some mulch to “hill them up” and unroll the top of the bag to it’s full height. Mulch is probably a misnomer to be honest. When we talk about mulch we are usually referencing shredded wood that we use around shrubbery and the like. In this case when I say mulch I am talking about is a light mixture of organic matter made up of some combination of hay, grass clippings, leaves and even saw dust. Ideally I would like to have used a mixture of grass clippings, leaves and a bit of saw dust. Unfortunately I used up all my leaves in my raised beds last year and I have not used my table saw in quiet some time, so I am forced to just go with grass clippings. (I am making a mental note of that to remember this come fall)

Since my tractor does not have a bagger installed I am going to have to use my push mower to get some grass clippings. With the temperature already pushing one hundred degrees this morning I am not very excited about that but I will just have to chalk it up to tuition expense and try to plan a little better in the future.

Okay! I mowed the side lawn and got just enough grass clippings to fill in the most pressing needs. The grass clippings will quickly turn brown and break down in the heat and in doing so will lend their nutrients to the bag.

Why do I need to hill up potatoes? There are a couple of reasons for this whether they be grown in a garden with suitable soil or in a raised bed. The predominant reason being that your plant is going to develop “tubers” on the stem. Think of these tubers as “buds” that will eventually grow into an adult potato. The more tubers, the more abundant your harvest. Hilling or “earthing-up” your potatoes not only helps encourage a larger harvest but will protect them from exposure to the sun, which will turn the skin green. Contrary to popular belief, eating these are not going kill you (or I would have long since departed) However they can have a biter taste. In areas where they are sown directly into suitable soil, hilling up your plans will also help keep the weeds down.

Watering throughout the growing season on a regular basis is a must for a healthy plant and a productive harvest of nice looking spuds. If they get dry for an extended period of time the skin can crack you can get some strange looking growth. Sudden watering after a long drought can also cause knobs to start growing. These are not going to hurt your spuds, but it can make peeling a challenge.

I have mini sprinklers and bubblers set up my raised beds. I simply do not have the time or inclination go out and water on a consistent basis, especially with the sweltering heat we get here. They would quickly burn up without a cool drink a couple times a day. You can now purchase mini irrigation systems most anywhere and for the cost they just can’t be beat. For about $40 (not including a timer) you can build a decent no-frills system to take care of an average sized garden. They come in mighty handy especially when it’s time to for you to go on vacation.

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