How to Grow Potatoes
One of my new favorite edibles to grow is potatoes. Although I’m not much of a potato eater, the rest of my family loves them, so I’m able to put them to good use in the kitchen. Growing potatoes has been a fun learning experience. My first year (3 years ago) I thought the entire crop was a failure when I saw all the bushes go brown and wilt over. When I went to pull them there was nothing at the bottom so I figured all that time I was watering gopher food. When I went to shovel the soil under for next year, I was surprised and shocked to find all these beautiful potatoes sitting in bunches underground. It was like Christmas and an Easter egg hunt all at once!
This small basket contains just a fraction of this year’s heirloom potato harvest. The flavor they pack is significantly better than anything you’ve ever bought from a store, so in my book they are definitely worth growing at home.
- The white ones are German Butterball- a great potato for roasting or mashing. Also has been great in potato salads.
- The red ones are my favorite. Cranberry Reds- wonderful steamed, roasted or for making potato salad.
- The blue ones are called All Blue- the prettiest, but they cook extremely quick, so they can’t be cooked with the others or they will turn to mush. They are great roasted or in salads, but don’t look very appetizing when mashed or fried. Purple doesn’t translate well to creamy foods, but the flavor of these is amazing.
These little round balls don’t look much different than dirt clods when picked, but after being scrubbed they sparkle and shine like little jewels:
If you’re not from Idaho, you may not know what a potato crop looks like. Here’s my three rows after sprouting in the Spring:
At full height they look like this:
Potatoes need full sun and rich, well drained soil and plenty of mulch after they’ve sprouted. I shovel compost into the rows before planting and again after sprouting, hilling the compost up around the stems. This helps produce a more abundant crop. I initially plant the starts pretty low in the ground, then shovel dirt and compost over them once the plants are growing well.
Even a small-space gardener can produce plenty of potatoes for summer and fall recipes. Lots of gardening companies sell small potato growing bags for around $9.00 and these larger bags for around $25.00.
If you have any spare tires, recycle them into growing pots. Just fill a tire with soil and plant, then add another tire and more soil after potatoes have grown higher, continuing this until a 3rd or even 4th tire is added. This forces the roots to produce even more potatoes.
Once your potato plants have finished flowering, you’ll notice them beginning to turn yellow and die off. This is the time to stop watering. You’ll see the foliage completely die and fall to the ground. Give them at least a couple more weeks to dry out, then carefully harvest them by using a pitchfork and digging a good foot away from them, loosening the soil around them. You don’t want to accidentally fork the potatoes.
If the weather is dry you can leave them on top of the dirt for a couple of days to dry out. If not, move them to a cool dark place to harden off for a couple days. This will toughen the skin for fall and winter storage. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to cook with them.
If you have young kids or grandchildren I highly recommend growing a few next season. There’s nothing quite as exciting as turning up these little gems from under the soil after watching them grow and die off all Spring and Summer.