How to Grow Potatoes: Easy Potato Growing Methods For All Situations
Potatoes are one of the easiest and most abundant foods you can grow. They can be served as a side dish or dressed up to be a complete meal. They also keep pretty well. If you are looking for a simple item to grow that will also bulk up your pantry, potatoes are a great staple. Here are several different ways to grow potatoes, no matter where you live.
Which Potato Growing Method is Right for You?
Straw Bale Method
Some expense for materials
Inexpensive if you have mulch
Growing potatoes (or anything) in straw bales is an easy, inexpensive and eco-friendly way to get your garden started. When done correctly, it also produces a magnificent yield. You don't need fresh bales. Because you want straw to be aged for this method anyway, you can usually get older bales that have been exposed to the elements and that farmers are desperate to get rid of.
- Obtain straw bales. A good rule of thumb is two to three plants per bale, so keep that in mind when determining how many bales you will need.
- Place your bales. They will need at least six hours of sunlight a day, and once they are wet, they will be too heavy to move. Once you have decided where to place your bales, lay some newspaper or weed barrier on the ground to prevent weeds from growing up through your bales.
- Condition your bales. If your bale is at least a year old, you can skip this step. If your bale is new, wet it down every day for about 2 weeks. You will want the bales to remain constantly moist, so water as needed each day. On days three through nine, add a nitrogen fertilizer once a day. You should water bales well enough that they are moist but not so much that water and fertilizer go running out. Conditioning the bale helps the bales begin to decompose. At the beginning of this process you may notice the straw bales heating up. Before planting, however, use a thermometer or your hand to make sure that the inside of the bale is below body temperature.
- Plant your seed potatoes. Cut potatoes into chunks with at least one “eye” on each piece. Let pieces set for 24 hours so that the cut sides may dry before planting. Place cuttings six inches into the bale. Water regularly. You may also fertilize bales with 10-10-10 fertilizer every three weeks or so.
- Harvest. When plants begin to wither and die, this is a sign that your potatoes are ready to harvest. You can cut the strings on the bales and allow the bales to fall apart. You will be able to harvest your potatoes without any digging.
Straw Bale Gardening
Growing Potatoes in Containers
Yes, you can grow potatoes in containers. People who choose this method generally do so because they don't have much space. A gardening container can be placed on a patio or even a balcony. You might also choose this method of growing potatoes if you don't have a whole lot of time to spend on gardening. This method makes it easier to protect your plants from pests and makes weeding virtually unnecessary. You can use any clean container, from a garbage can to a feed sack. The rule is that you have to get it to stand up, and it has to have good drainage. You may need to make holes in your container to get it to drain properly.
- Fill your (clean and ventilated) container with potting soil and a healthy dose of fertilizer. You can also add hay to the mix to keep the soil from getting too compacted.
- Plant your potatoes. Cut your seed potatoes into chunks that are at least the size of your thumb and press them about six inches into the soil.
- Tend your plants. This includes (but is not limited to) watering, fertilizing and “hilling.” Your soil should remain moist but not too wet. Dry soil will cause your plants to wilt, but too much water will turn your potatoes into mush. As plants grow, continue to add soil around them. Because potatoes grow from the stem of the plant making sure to keep the stem covered will ensure that new potatoes have a chance to grow. Potato plants like sunlight; potatoes do not.
- Harvest. When plants begin to die, your potatoes are ready.
This one is for the truly lazy gardener. Simply scatter seed potatoes over the gardening space and cover them with mulch. As with other methods, you will need to continue adding mulch as plants grow. One caveat: if you have a problem with pests such as mice or moles, this method should not be your first choice.
Traditional Trench Method
This is the time-honored "traditional" method for growing potatoes. It is a great way to go if you have space and like to spend time in the garden. Because there is plenty of space for plants to spread out, it carries the greatest potential for a plentiful harvest.
- Dig a trench six inches deep.
- Place cut seed potatoes in the trench, eyes up. Cover with a couple inches of soil.
- As plants grow, continue to pull soil up around them to prevent new spuds from being exposed to the sun. Exposure to sunlight will cause developing potatoes to turn green, which will make them a little bit poisonous. You probably won't die, but they won't be very good potatoes.
I'd Like to Have a Garden, But...
What is your greatest challenge for gardening?
If you want to be involved in your own food production, you should start simple. You could keep chickens or grow a radical garden. Much of that involves time, however, and a learning curve. You don't need a lot of time, money, space or talent to grow potatoes, though. No matter what your skills or means or how much space you have, anyone can grow potatoes. With the right gardening method and a little attention, you can have a fine harvest of potatoes to grace your table and supplement your pantry.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.