Lets talk about Potatoes

There are a lot of relatively easy plants to grow and potatoes are one of them.

I’m going to assume everyone knows what a potato is and what it looks like.  Here is the short story on what you need to know and I’ll relate my own experiences.  Potatoes are little energy bombs.  The plant soaks up the sun and nutrients from the ground, and deposits the energy in the roots.  The roots are bursting with all this energy and start to pack on the pounds, get fat, and become the tubers you seen in the store.  If you leave a potato out of the ground, this little energy ball will start to morph into a new plant by sending out greenery to soak up the sun.  Left alone too long, the potato will become a shell of potato skin that quickly dies.

Potatoes are a nightshade so they’re also in the same family as tomatoes.  One of the cool features of this group is that when the plant is hilled, the stem starts sending out roots to gather more energy.  This is one reason many people will lay a tomato plant on its side and bury the stem all the way to the top at the beginning of the growing season.  More roots will form, more energy is gained, and bigger tomatoes are produced.  In the case of the potato, those new roots store the energy instead of producing big juicy fruit.

So we’ve got this energy ball and it’s started to grow eyes.  Now what?  As soon as the ground can be worked, you dig a trench and pop those little babies in there.  Lightly bury them and wait for the growth.  It’s May right now – did you miss the season?  I don’t think so.  You just won’t get as many potatoes.

Once your potato plants start to get about 1 hand to 1 ½ hands tall, feel free to bury them leaving only a couple of leaves exposed.  Last year, I buried the whole plant and about a week later I had still had no greenery.  I dug down and where I had had fat green leaves, the lack of sun turned them yellow and scared.  No big deal.  I exposed them and they were revived.  Repeat this hilling process all summer long.  At some point, the plant will yell, “uncle,” and start to yellow.  Don’t worry – just leave the plant alone and get ready to harvest.  This should be roughly the end of summer.

A note on hilling.  I planted my potatoes in raw dirt.  I dug down about 1 ½ feet and hilled them with a layer of leaves and a light layer of the dirt hill that was created during trenching.

When you dig up your potatoes, clean them off, throw them in a paper bag, and put them in the basement.  Don’t leave them in the ground.  I’ve experimented by leaving them in the ground and they turn into mush balls come spring.  Now, you may get a couple of survivors, but you’ll get better results if you dig them up.  It’s kind of funny because you take all these precautions and the next year’s trench mound may start to produce more plants.  These volunteers are awesome, but not the norm.

So good luck with your potato crop!  Experiment constantly, take my advice, and don’t get too hung up on details.  Just throw some potatoes in the ground and start growing.  I haven’t gone into specific details on timing, fertilizer, soil amendments, etc. on purpose.  Some people get hung up and try to time everything perfectly.  We’re human and things happen in life that will throw off our planned gardening activities.  Don’t fret and grow, grow, grow.

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