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To contain or not contain? That is the question.
Growing potatoes in containers seems to be very popular nowadays, but I’m not so sure it’s the best way to grow potatoes. Given that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube personalities always need a “new thing” to attract clicks, there’s no end to bad ideas circulating.
John and I did a bit of research before we planted and, ultimately, we are still growing our potatoes old school - in the ground, where potatoes go. Last year we harvested over 200lbs of Yukon Golds and German Butterballs. In fact, we’re still eating them. So, old school works for us.
If you’re on the fence about container growing, Garden Fundamentals features a Canadian guy with a very no-nonsense perspective on all things gardening. And he’s pretty funny, too. We continue to learn a lot from him…
This year, on May 1st, we planted a different variety of potato and we also planted fewer - about half what we planted last year. Like I mentioned, we’re still eating a lot of potatoes and the ones we still have stored are beginning to go soft.
I’ve dehydrated and canned a lot of them and we also gave a few pounds away, so we learned that 200lbs of potatoes is probably too many potatoes for just us. Even an Irishman can only eat so many spuds…
Although the Yukon Golds and German Butterballs did well, we like to try new things so we went with Russet Norkotah this year. Supposedly, they’re excellent for baking, frying or boiling and they store well.
I get my potato seeds from Irish Eyes, when I’m not planting existing sprouts. So far, our results have been good. They also offer a detailed potato growing guide, if you’re interested in learning a lot of very specific information.
I won’t go into as much detail as they do (because they are much more knowledgeable about potatoes than I am!), but I’ll summarize what we did:
I think I was more particular about my trenching last year but, now that I know potatoes love to grow here, I have a more laisse faire attitude about my plantings. As you can see, my trenches aren’t exactly straight.
I’m sure John’s trenches would have been straight as a ruler, but he didn’t complain since I was doing the digging.
I hoed two trenches about 4-6 inches deep and then spaced the potatoes about a foot apart.
Last year, we cut our potatoes into smaller sections, each with an eye, and left them out for a day to cure before we planted them. This year, I planted the whole potato, making sure at least one eye was pointed up. You want an eye pointed up so it will grow in the right direction.
Then, I loosely covered the trench with about 2-3 inches of soil, loosely packed. A few days later, we came back and mulched with some grass clippings.
You don’t want to fill in your trench completely because when the potatoes are about 8 inches high, you’ll have to mound the dirt up around them. You can use the dirt you dug out for the trench to do that.
After a couple weeks, our potatoes sprouted. Now they’re about 10 inches tall and I will mound more dirt and mulch around them soon. Throughout their season, you’ll need to mound around them 2-3 times.
After about 7-8 weeks, the potatoes will begin to blossom. You can harvest the early varieties at this time, or leave them longer. The ideal time to harvest is when the vines start to die off. Since potatoes are already, in effect, in storage you don’t have to worry about them going bad if you delay harvesting. They aren’t like a tomato that will rot on the vine.
In case you’re wondering, though, we did learn back in 2021 that potatoes cannot grow well without their blossoms. That year, deer came and ate all of our potato plants down to the ground. We dug them up in the fall - curious whether they’d survived without their greenery. They hadn’t.
We have a fence now.
After harvesting the potatoes, we leave them on the ground in the sun for about a day or so to cure before packing them away for storage. We brush the dirt off gently, but not completely, and eat any that are bruised or cut right away because they don’t store well.
We’ve used both burlap coffee-bean bags and nylon mesh bags for storage, and the nylon bags work best for us. Those in the nylon bags seemed to store longer.
We store the bags of potatoes on wire shelves in the cellar, which is generally about 55F degrees. Here, we have more humidity in the winter than in the summer, so we put Dry-Z-Air in the cellar to absorb excess moisture.
Last year, we harvested the Yukon Golds in Mid-September and the German Butterballs the first week of October, so they’ve successfully stored for about 9 months.
A Bit of History
Here’s an interesting fact I learned about potato history… did you know that the French Parliament officially banned potatoes in 1748? Back then, they were considered hog feed and many believed they caused leprosy and hemorrhoids. Yes, hemorrhoids - because of their appearance.
Until Antoine-Augustin Parmentier…
Parmentier was a Frenchman who served as a pharmacist during the Seven Years’ War. When he was taken prisoner by the Prussians, he survived on a diet of nothing but potatoes as his prison rations. He owed his life to potatoes.
Thus, upon release, Parmentier made it his life’s mission to redeem the humble potato… but to little avail. It seemed people were pretty set in their ways against the potato.
An important scientist, Parmentier had the ear of King Louis XVI and was granted a large plot of land in 1781 to grow potatoes. There he plotted (no pun intended) to increase the potatoes’ appeal by stationing armed guards around the plants day and night. The guards were instructed to accept bribes and “let” thieves get away with stealing the forbidden potatoes.
Of course, it worked because people always want what they can’t have. Kind of like when they tell you a vaccine is in short supply and create a “waiting list” that differentiates between “essential” and “non-essential” persons…
Nothing has changed.
C’est la même chose…(it’s the same thing).
Of course, being a hero of French cuisine, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was honored with a dish in his name: Parmentier Potatoes.
Helpful Gardening Tool
Lastly, I want to mention a very useful tool I just bought recently: It’s called an Action Hoe. It’s just a simple triangular blade that you scrape along the ground to eliminate weeds in the garden.
I’m still using a long, narrow spade for the thistles but for your “normal” shallow-rooted weeds, the Action Hoe is fantastic. It’s just like a traditional hoe, but easier on your back and arms. A bit.
Every little bit helps.
If you’re curious what I’ve been cooking with all of those potatoes for the past 9 months, I’ll be posting a recipe soon for a quick and easy potato quiche!