We decided yesterday it was time to find out if the potato plants, growing in the garden box had anything for us. As I started brushing back the dirt the first potato was exposed. A nice one. Digging further, others were found. They seemed to get smaller the deeper I dug, until there was just spidery roots. All in all we got about five pounds of potatoes out of our little garden box. Not bad, I thought, for a couple of rookies who knew nothing about growing potatoes back in the spring.
Now, I still don’t know a lot about growing potatoes, but I did learn a couple of things.
You start with seed potatoes. You can get these at your local feed and seed supply dealer. Sometimes the hardware stores carry them if they sell planting vegetables. As seed potatoes appear to be potatoes with healthy eyes sprouting you can probably just put some potatoes you’ve purchased up in a cool, dark place for a while and make your own. Looking at the seed potato, with its sprouts looking like the beginnings of a root system, one might think you just plunk them in the ground. That’s what I thought, until an old timer told me to cut the potatoes in quarters and plant each quarter. Dig out a little hole, three to four inches deep, drop the cut piece into the hole and cover it up. You can do like I did and plant the potato cuttings every foot, but if you want them to be the most productive they need to be spaced about two feet apart. Imagine a circle with a two-foot radius, beginning right at the center of where you just planted a cutting. Potatoes grow pretty close to the surface, so if other plants are competing for the space the plants root system is forced to go down which makes it harder for the potato to grow. That’s why when I dug mine they got smaller the deeper I dug. I found several marble size spuds, which are pretty tasty but it takes a hell of a lot of them to make a meal. In between the planting and the digging just make sure they get plenty of water, I watered every day, except when it rained, which wasn’t all that often at my place. The other thing I did was sprinkled some slow release nitrogen in the dirt. How do you tell when they’re ready to dig? Well my clue was the plants themselves were beginning to die out, with brown, dry leaves. I figured if the plants were dying the potatoes weren’t going to grow anymore. There may be a more scientific method but this seemed to work. It took about eight weeks of watching and watering before we had taters.
Another thing I learned later was that you have to keep covering the potato plants as they grow. In my garden the following spring I planted two long rows, about twenty five feet each, and at least once a week I would use my hoe to pile more dirt on top of the plant. By doing this the potatoes stay close to the surface and are more plentiful. This time we harvested about thirty pounds of potatoes. I planted both red potatoes and a golden variety. Both species produced many spuds.