Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Easy-peasy growing potatoes

You’ll often hear people say that potatoes are so easy to grow that they just grown themselves. This is dependent on your climate and soil type. We live on the coast where its hot and sandy so if we left our potatoes to just do their thing, they’d get scorched to death.

If you don’t like the idea of digging and hard work, there are a few other easy-peasy methods to grow potatoes. But first you’ll need to buy “seed” potatoes. These just look like a potato that has been left too long in the pantry and has sprouted. Garden centres have plenty of varieties to choose from, and depending on your region, you should find varieties for winter and spring/summer. Ask the staff which variety will do well in grow bags (in NZ, try cliff kidney or rocket).

You might be tempted to plant out that determined potato in the pantry that has sprouted and is trying to make a bid for freedom. Generally you won’t get the same high quality results from this escape artist as you will from your certified seed potatoes. Worse, this little guy may introduce potato crop diseases into your soil. Countries like the US, UK and many others apply a chemical to potatoes to prevent them from sprouting in your pantry. So if you live in one of these countries you can see why your supermarket potato won’t stand a chance at life as a potato plant. All the more reason to grow your own potatoes to avoid ingesting potato growth inhibiting chemicals from the supermarket ones.

Grow bags.
We bought a couple of black canvas grow bags from the garden store when we bought our seed potatoes. Grow bags are very popular with people who have small backyards and people who like lazy gardening. The theory is that the black will attract the heat, but you can use any old canvas bag you have lying around to save you money (test how water tight it is first though - you might have to cut small holes in the bottom).

How many potatoes you place into your bag is dependent on the size of the canvas bag you’ve used. The garden store version that we bought (pictured above) is a good size so we added four seed potatoes to this one. The real advantage of grow bags is that when the potatoes are ready you can just tip the bag upside down and collect the potatoes. No need to buy a potato fork and dig them up.

Potatoes like full sun and a well draining soil, so you might like to add some sand to your mix. We mixed some of our sandy backyard soil with a store bought bag of compost and then added some sheep manure pellets to our grow bags.

1. Add about 20cm (8 inches) of soil to the bottom of the grow bags and then place your sprouted seed potatoes in. You can use 2-4 seed potatoes - it depends on the size of your grow bags. Cover the potato to just above its sprouts (about 2cm or an inch above is fine).
2. Once the sprouts are about 10-15cm tall (4-6 inches), add more soil to your bag so that you’re just covering up the tops of the leaves. Keep doing this until the bag is full.

In my photo you’ll see some straw in the bag. This is because I added two handfuls of straw after clearing the hens’ nesting boxes. Potatoes like a bit of nitrogen (from the chicken poo) but not too much or it can damage the plants.

Tyre-tastic potatoes
The other easy method is growing them in tyres [insert your own choice of cheesy joke about how growing them in tyres isn’t tiring]. Its the same principle as with the grow bags except that tyres won't cost you anything because plenty of people/tyre stores/garages/recycling centres will give them to you free.

Like grow bags, the high sides of the tyres will block the sun from turning the potatoes green, and the black will retain the heat. The downside of tyres is that they don't fold away neatly out of view when you're not using them, unlike grow bags. Also, they can make your yard look a little like a wrecker's yard but you can always plant some flowers in there to make them prettier.

1. Unless you’re placing your tyres on concrete you’ll need to lay newspaper down first to prevent grass and weeds growing through your soil. I have used 6 sheets of newspaper. 

2. I've added soil (just our sandy backyard soil) and placed two seed potatoes in. Don't forget to add the soil right into the sides of the tyres as there is a lot space in there for potatoes to grow.
3. Cover to about 2cm or an inch above the sprouts. We covered ours with some chicken manure compost for nutrients.

4. When the sprouts are 10-15cm high (4-6 inches) you can add another tyre and fill it with soil until the leaves are just covered. The black rubber of your "potato tower" will keep the soil warm and will encourage growth.

5. To harvest your booty, simply remove the tyres and collect up the potatoes.

- Save some of your newly grown potatoes to plant out for next time so that you don’t have to buy more seed potatoes.
- Try making your own compost so that you don’t have to buy any next time.
- Some people like to add a little potato fertiliser to the soil at planting time, and then once again after 6 weeks.
- You’ll need to water your potatoes regularly, otherwise they’ll be small and unimpressive. How often you water is dependent on rainfall in your area.

Now that they’re ready its time to make a delicious potato salad with homemade mayonnaise (we use olive oil, a bit of honey mustard and fresh eggs from our hens. See the recipe here http://diykiwi.blogspot.co.nz/2013/01/healthy-honey-mustard-mayonnaise.html). Throw in some homegrown courgette, radish and basil. Leave the skin on for nutrition. Enjoy!

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