Growing Potatoes is so very very simple, it is a great place for new gardeners to start. You don’t need good soil, you don’t even need to dig the area over, you don’t need raised beds or to pay them any special attention. And your reward? Crispy, flavoursome Potatoes to enjoy!
My Mum was telling me the other day that she remembers as a kid (1950’s), her suburb was all new houses. Lots of European people moving in planted potatoes in the first year – why? Because they will grow in average soils, and actually break up the soil so a vegetable garden can be started in the following year. Plus, Potatoes can feed your family – an important consideration for those who lived through the war years.
Potatoes should be grown from certified seed potatoes, these can be purchased at garden centres or through online catalogues.
They can be planted between July and November.
Potatoes can be grown in the ground, raised beds, or a temporary bed made from old car tyres or wire mesh.
Tips for successful growing:
Make sure that the soil/straw keeps getting hilled up as the plants grow, you can cover a fair bit of the plant. This really is the most important thing, as green potatoes are poisonous!
Don’t add too much manure, or the nitrogen just gets the leafy greens cracking along and they don’t store enough starch into the tubers.
How to Grow Potatoes – hills and furrows technique
First, dig down into the garden bed, making a trench.
Then, place your seed potatoes in the trench, covering just a little with loose soil – you want to see them sprouting.
Once they start sending up green shoots, add alternate layers of soil and straw – or just soil – or soil + compost + straw if you have really poor soils.
Keep piling up, and over a few months you will end up with hills where you once had furrows.
That’s it…you can’t see what is happening underground so you just have to trust that if the tops are healthy then everything is going according to plan.
How to Grow Potatoes – tyres or cages technique
This technique for growing potatoes uses a structure to assist with building the layers of soil/straw over the growing plants.
For example, start with one old car tyre, and fill with a soil/compost mixture – and plant your seed potatoes in.
As they sprout and grow, keep adding tyres and soil/straw to the stack.
As long as you keep them covered you will get a quality crop.
Note: Black tyres can get very hot in the sun, so place in a position where they get afternoon shade in summer.
Bandicooting is a technique where you dig in underneath and pull off potatoes as you need them. I don’t know who invented this term/technique but I always think of Jackie French.
This is of course much easier when the potatoes are grown in a mesh cylinder, digging around for them in the dirt can be a hit and miss exercise.
Once the flowers are finished, and the tops have died off – you can get in there are harvest your spuds. Use a garden fork and start from the edge, lifting out big sections and turning them over. It is just bloody bad luck that you will spear a few with the fork, you couldn’t do it if you tried but it always happens. Any scraped or speared potatoes will need to be eaten straight away.
It is handy to have a helper to grab the potatoes as you fork through the soil, and keep in mind the spuds will be over a few different depth layers – so keep looking.
My 4 year old was my potato helper, and he nearly had as much fun as if we were hunting for easter eggs. Nearly.
Cleaning and Storage
Once harvested, leave outside for the day so they dry out a little. Always leave the dirt on the skins, right up until you are going to prepare them for eating.
Then, just store them in a cool dark area until you want to eat them. I don’t grow a huge amount, so we usually eat ours within a few weeks of harvest.
So there you go, keep an eye out (haha) for seed potatoes – they start appearing in garden centres in June and have a go.
While there is little economic reason for growing potatoes, it is worth doing for pleasure and educating the kids (and ourselves).
And if you have a patch of dirt that is horrid and needs rehabilitation, then growing potatoes is a great way of getting a result without ridiculous amounts of digging!