I love growing food. I love talking about growing food. I really love sharing tips that show just how easy it is to grow at least a little food – even in tiny spaces. So, that is what I thought we would talk about this month.
Growing our own food, even if it is just a single tomato plant on a balcony, helps us stay more connected to the earth, teaches our kids where food comes from, and reminds us to appreciate the people who grow and harvest our food for us.
Gardening is time consuming, and most of us do not have room in our busy schedules to add growing food for ourselves or our families to the to-do list. In particular, most of us do not have the time or space to grow enough food to sustain us, but we can all grow something. There are plenty of easy options that probably come to mind, like radishes, carrots, tomatoes, and herbs. Today, let’s add potatoes to that list.
The experts, which I am not, will tell you that you must buy seed potatoes from a nursery, cut them into pieces, keep them in the refrigerator for a few days, and dust them with sulfur before finally planting them in either February or August. That is probably the right way to do it, but I have never done any of this, and I have grown up to 20 potato plants at a time throughout the year. Now, it’s true that you don’t want to use conventional potatoes from the grocery store for this, because they have been treated with maleic hydrazide (a growth inhibitor), but whenever I have some organic potatoes around that I didn’t eat fast enough and have started to sprout, I plant them in the garden and watch them grow.
Here is the simplest way to grow organic potatoes in your backyard:
1. Find tall, well-draining containers in which to grow your potatoes. You can grow them in the ground, but it is much easier if you grow them in a container that you can dump out at harvest time. I use tall, fabric planters that I can fold and store in the shed when not in use.
2. Fill the bottom of the container with about four inches of soil.
3. Place your sprouted potatoes about four inches apart in the container with eyes pointed up. If your potatoes are large, you can cut them into chunks with a couple of eyes on each chunk.
4. Cover them with about four inches of soil.
5. Water regularly and watch for sprouts to begin poking through the soil in a couple of weeks.
6. As the plants grow, continue to add soil to the container to cover most of the plant. Make sure to leave a few inches of the plant above the soil. This is going to feel wrong, since you will be covering up stems and leaves, but keep doing this until your container is full.
7. Once the plants have yellowed and withered, leave them for about a week or so, and then dump your container on a tarp or in a garden bed and sift through the soil to harvest your potatoes. You can brush off any big debris but keep them a little dirty for better longevity. Store them in a cool, dry, dark spot, and do not eat potatoes that are not firm or that have turned green. Green potatoes contain a toxic glycoalkaloid, solanine, that is toxic to us and our animal companions.
If you reuse the soil, which I usually do, you might find that you get some volunteer potato plants wherever you use it. I always seem to miss a tiny potato or two and end up with volunteer potatoes growing in other parts of the garden.
If you choose to purchase seed potatoes, check out one of our local nurseries to see if they are in stock.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
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