March 10, 2011 by Leah
I don’t usually think that much about potatoes, but we sure eat a lot of them. To quote the amazing Barleyjuice:
potatoes boiled and fried
enough to make you cry
potatoes piled high
potatoes with whiskey on the side
That’s the refrain to a song I first heard at McGinley’s Pub in Anchorage while eating something that involved potatoes. I about died laughing, and was very sad I couldn’t order whiskey as it was lunchtime.
Anyhoo, there’s a great booth at the farmer’s market where I get my eggs and potatoes, so I barely gave a thought to the idea of planting potatoes when I put my garden in last fall. Actually, I think I thought about it, but read that potatoes are funny about getting cold, so I decided not to play with them at that time.
As I read more about gardening, the potato references seemed to be few and far between and in a negative light, e.g. people seem to think growing potatoes takes too much space and digging. As you may have seen from photos of our backyard, we are not lacking in space. In fact, I hate grass in a yard – I’d rather have the entire thing be a garden, but I’m still a beginner and am keeping my garden manageable.
(The latest expansion does seem to have scared off our landscapers, though, since they only work with a ride-on mower and a power edger thingy, so I’m hoping we can stop paying $89.38 per month for lawn care which would make one of these babies pay for itself in two months. The lawn care is a mandatory component of our rent, btw.
For those of you who are suspicious of links, I want a Fiskars Momentum Reel Mower as seen below.
Or maybe a goat. Or both.
Oh, damn. Here comes the ride-on lawnmower.)
Back to potatoes…
My friend David, when referring me to the book Lasagna Gardening, mentioned that the author had a special way of growing her potatoes. Her way of growing potatoes is to place the seed potatoes on newspaper and then throw some hay over the top, adding hay as the plants grew. That way, when the potatoes are ready, you can just pitchfork the hay off the potatoes without digging. Funnily enough, that’s exactly the potato-growing method used by Helen and Scott Nearing in their sixty years of homesteading in New England (it was first mentioned in Living the Good Life which was published in 1954).
Not having a supply of hay, I was more intrigued by a sidebar about growing potatoes in two halves of a garbage can. It seemed like a good method to contain the potato portion of the garden, particularly for someone who is just experimenting with growing food. There weren’t a lot of instructions in the book other than to place the seed potatoes on some newspaper inside the garbage can halves (or any other container with good drainage or just no bottom – I took the bottom off the garbage can with a Leatherman knife and a saw) and cover them with mulch. Then, as the plants grow, keep adding mulch.
When they are ready, I’m expecting to just lift up the garbage can halves and to be greeted with an amazing bounty of potatoes. I’ve got this fantasy playing in slow-motion in my head where we have SO MANY potatoes that they bounce and roll all over the yard and Aaron and I caper about, laughing, trying to catch them. (Also included in this fantasy: my hair looks great and is all shiny and swinging around.)
Apparently the garbage can method is the most low-tech way to go with growing potatoes vertically (which seems to be what I’m doing since the alternative would be to have them sprawling all over the yard). David also sent a link to this article, which combines info on building a potato box from various sources (and credits those sources, hooray). Some other information I’ve come across is that the potatoes you will eventually harvest grow between the seed potatoes and the plant leaves, that potato bugs can be swept off leaves with a broom and can’t find their way up again when they are small, and that it doesn’t really matter if you cut your seed potatoes or not – whole seed potatoes will give your plants a health edge but cutting them into pieces with an eye or three on each is the more frugal method and should give you more potatoes.
I “planted” my seed potatoes whole what with growing them in containers and it being my first time. I figured this was the best way to set them up for success. Check back with me in a few months and we’ll see how it went (and whether I’ve started blow-drying my hair on a regular basis).