11/30: Potato update


16 days ago by SatoshiDoodles

Back in May, my friend dropped by with a burlap sack containing two kinds of seed potatoes. We swapped for some extra tomato seedlings.

The seed potatoes which had already sprouted a few inches of vine were planted in trash bins (after drilling some drainage holes) which is a legit/known way to grow potatoes.

The deep trash bins are ideal containers because potatoes grow underground and need to be mounded with more soil or organic material like mulch/straw, as the vines grow. They need nutrient rich soil because potatoes are heavy feeders.

Potatoes also grow best with full sun conditions (6-8 hours of direct sunlight). Unfortunately, the available garden space was part shade, so there was some slightly laborious dragging of bins (from morning to midday, shifting them several feet to catch the maximum amount of sunlight).

To start, I added one large bag of Seasoil per trash bin and placed the seed potatoes a few inches from the bottom, 6-8 per bin.

As the vines grew, one more bag was added til the container was at least 2/3 mounded with soil and the vines were growing over the top.

I think each bag of organic Seasoil was about $8.99.

I could have added more soil but was not willing to budget for that, since potatoes are pretty cost effective to buy (vs. heirloom tomatoes). More on that in a bit.

Did you know #1:
Potatoes and tomatoes are classified in the same plant family, Solanaceae (or nightshades). Therefore they are susceptible to the same pests and diseases. Their location in the garden should be rotated to avoid planting in the same soil from year to year.

Did you know #2:
Potato plants sometimes grow berries! The first time I grew potatoes they did not fruit. This year, there were quite a few green berries on the plants. It’s not recommended to eat the potato berries because they’re somewhat toxic. It is possible to grow plants from the seeds, but they will not be true to the parent plant.

Today, after 107 days, one bin of potatoes was harvested (before it started pouring rain). Ideally, I could have waited until all of the vines visible above the soil level were wilted. This might have yielded a few extra potatoes. Potatoes are ready to harvest, depending on the variety, between 90-120 days.

The harvesting process was pretty easy because I just dumped the whole bin out onto another garden bed and dug through the soil with gloved hands to find the potatoes. No pitchfork was required so there wasn’t an issue with damaging the potatoes with metal prongs.

I learned that although it was fun to try growing trash bin potatoes, it’s not very cost effective. The total grand haul from one bin of red potatoes was ….. just over 3 pounds of spuds. Which was a bit paltry, considering the cost of bagged organic soil.

This was just enough for one dinner of poutine, made with roasted red potato wedges smothered in gravy and cheese curds (or grated cheese as a substitute). Plus some roasted cherry tomatoes and chickpeas for interest. And garnished with chopped chives.

For my current part shade garden situation, I will think twice about growing potatoes again. (When my children were young, it would have been more worth it for the learning experience of growing food and understanding where potatoes come from.)