Monday, October 20, 2014

unplanned potatoes

In late spring I planted various tender bulbs including some dahlia tubers. It makes me a bit nervous. Will they grow? Will they be what they're supposed to be (those ended up being good things to worry about... I've never had so many wrongly labeled seeds and bulbs as I did this year). I watched the spots I'd planted the bulbs, eagerly awaiting new growth. I was so excited when the dahlias started growing,


except that one of those plants didn't look quite right. In my eagerness for dahlias I didn't look at it too closely or think about it too much. And then, suddenly, it hit me. Of course that's not a dahlia. That is a potato.

No, I didn't mistake a potato tuber for a dahlia when I was planting bulbs (and the bulb company didn't mess up that badly). The potato was a stowaway from our compost pile, or rather what we called our compost pile. When we moved in last November there were no gardens and certainly no compost pile, but we didn't want to throw away our kitchen waste. We picked a spot to pile it during the winter and that's where all our onion peels and coffee grounds and other bits went. When spring came we decided to move the pile but a little sprouted potato was missed. (I'm fairly certain that sprouted potato was a German Butterball from our friends -- thank you Mary and Bob!). I did what any crazy gardener would do. I dug up the plant and moved it. Why waste a thriving potato plant?

I love the idea of growing potatoes (especially because potatoes grown with conventional farming --read pesticides -- are one of the worst crops for the environment and for your health), but in the past I haven't had the best luck with them. I was especially discouraged when my mom and I tried growing potatoes in the vegetable garden at the farm that first summer when I was living there with her. Digging the trenches was extremely hard work as was the harvest. I was so bad at harvesting potatoes. I speared many with the hand shovel, no matter how careful I was being. I don't mind hard work if there's a result after it, but after all of the work of growing and harvesting those potatoes our couple rows yielded a piddly harvest. I think the soil was just too heavy.

It seems I'm not the only one who finds that the traditional way of growing potatoes can be problematic. There are so many alternative methods and if you do a search on the internet you will find lots of ideas (this article from Organic Gardening gives a good overview of some). In my garden in Cleveland I'd planted sprouted potatoes in barrels and been pleased with the result. Last winter I was especially intrigued by the idea of growing potatoes vertically, but I never did start building my potato box before I needed a spot for my stowaway plant.

Instead, the plant was put into a pot where it grew all summer. I planted it fairly low in the pot so I could add soil periodically (I did this without much planning or any sort of schedule). I used a natural bagged potting soil mix (to make things easy) that included lots of organic matter and I used grass clippings as mulch. I fertilized a couple times with organic fish emulsion.

The plant seemed to be happy and flowered and grew in its pot all summer long.



The potatoes are in the largest pot in the back of the grouping below. The pot is about 19" wide at the top and about 19" tall and is tapered quite a bit.


When it came time to harvest I spread a tarp on the patio and tipped the pot on its side. Using my hands I slowly teased away the soil.


I wasn't sure I'd find anything in there and when I saw the first potatoes I was ecstatic.


And then there were more and more. And they all looked so fresh and beautiful.


I removed the potatoes as I discovered them and eventually I emptied the entire pot onto the tarp to make sure I didn't miss any.


I ended up with just under 5 pounds of potatoes, a harvest I wouldn't consider piddly in the least.

Next year I definitely want to plan to plant some potatoes. What about you? Do you grow potatoes? What's your preferred method?

4 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your potato harvest! That's not too shabby especially considering it wasn't even planned!

    I like growing potatoes in a really (REALLY) big container...starting with a layer on the bottom and piling up a shovelfull of compost as the plants grow. Unfortunately, the harvest never seems to justify the space they take up, even in a container tucked out of the way, so I gave up on them. Your photos are making me think they might be worth another try next spring, though!

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  2. Other than the ornamental sweet potato, I've not tried to grow them. I've always thought they're so cheap to buy in the grocery store but I never thought about the pesticides. I didn't know that was a bad crop as far as pesticides went. I'm impressed with your haul! I may need to give it a try. Do they taste better than commercially grown?

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  3. My long comment was swallowed up! Yes. I have grown potatoes before but in a purpose built potato barrel. My yield wasn't great but I think I may give it another go. Well done on spotting the rogue potato and getting it to multiply! :)

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  4. I sympathise -we have the stowaways in the compost situation all the time! I think they regroup over winter and hop right back in again! For two years running now we've tried growing spuds in big black dustbins but the harvest has been non existent - in fact the self sown spuds reap the best rewards!

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