Man, this grow-your-own-food stuff can be hard sometimes. If it were easy, I suppose everyone would be doing it. I mean, look at the benefits:
But it is damn.hard. For some it might be the time commitment. Watering and weeding are daily chores. So is looking out for pests, diseases, and intruders. There is the multitasking, the cost of tools and supplies, and the physical work.
And then, there is the fear of the unknown. Personally, I enjoy most of the chores. Particularly the way they feel important and force all other thoughts out of my mind when I'm doing them. But if there was any aspect that was going to put me off, it would be that uncertainty. I research myself to death only to go into the new project still feeling like I have no clue. The more reading I do…the more conflicting advice I encounter.
Starting potatoes in containers might be one of the worst projects so far in that regard. There are truly a million ways to grown them. The argument for growing them in containers instead of underground is that you can produce more and harvest them without scratching and damaging them, so I decided to go that route. First, I bought (2) 5 gal containers…then I did more reading and realized that I would only be able to start a few potatoes in each because of the small width.
…went back to the store and bought (2) 11 gallon tubs….realizing later that I had traded up in width and ability to start more potatoes, but I had sacrificed upward room for growth which might be more important. THEN, I pulled Matt into the project, only to be confronted with the fact that I hadn't done the best job with drainage and that I couldn't even explain how they grow! Yikes.
It's one of those moments where I stop and say..…wtf do I think I'm doing?
Well, what is there to do? I had already drilled these holes and just felt like there was no going back.
I told myself these three things to calm down: I can make adjustments later. I can do it completely different next year. And above all, no matter what happens, I STARTED. Which means I'm closer than I was before to getting it right.
And whaddyaknow, the same night I had an epiphany that made everything ok: the chicken wire we placed around the tubs for protection sets us up perfectly to hybrid in the 'potato tower' method! Huzzah!
But I should start from the beginning.
1. I purchased 2.5 lbs of 'Sangre Organic' certified seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. They shipped March 30th. $12.50 + shipping
Potato, Sangre Organic. Catalog #1535A
2. I purchased (2) Behrens 11 gallon tubs from Farm n Fleet. $16 ea. I used a power drill with a 1/2" drill bit to put drainage holes in the bottom. (Why is using a power tool so fun??!) In the future I may need to drill a few more drainage holes in the sides, but that can be done anytime, unlike these bottom holes.
If drainage REALLY doesn't work this year, I will have to consider more/bigger holes or rocks in the bottom of the containers. We'll see.
3. Placed the tubs where I wanted them (in full sun) and added 4" of garden soil.
4. WE (Matt got involved here) placed the 8-9 potatoes in the tubs with the 3 most sprouting eyes of the potato pointing up. Potatoes are a rare root vegetable that grow up instead of down. Also, I had read that you can place about 3 potatoes in a 12-13" wide container. For each inch wider, you can add 1 more potato. Since my tub was 20" wide, I supposedly start up to 10 potatoes in each.
5. We made sure the potatoes were at least 2-3 inches apart and covered them with 4 more inches of garden soil.
6. We then added chicken wire around the tubs to deter creatures from digging in the soil. (These are placed in the easement behind our house/behind our neighbors garage due to lack of full sun spots left in our yard. This area is basically an animal freeway, so this step was especially important here.)
7. So, the potatoes will sprout 'tubers', these kind of upward growing roots that will break through the surface of the soil and develop foliage. Once those leaves and flowers have an abundance of nutrients, they will channel it into growing more potatoes along the tuber under the soil. That is why, as the foliage grows upwards, you keep adding more soil. The plant will keep adding more potatoes in that space you create (hopefully).
With these tubs, I realized I would only be able to add more soil once or twice. BUT, back to that potato tower stuff... Some people simply use chicken wire filled with a ring of hay and center of garden soil to grow their potatoes. Once I run out of tub, I can increase the upward potential by following their example and doing a ring of hay around that there chicken wire to create sides. Assuming the foliage keeps growing higher and higher, using the potato tower method will likely double my harvest (or better!) Hoorah!
Finally, in 10 weeks or so, the foliage should start to yellow and die, and that will be my sign that the potatoes are ready to harvest. At that point, I will dump the tubs over on a tarp and start the process of a. enjoying the hell out of some potatoes and b. preparing many for storage. We will even set some of them aside to be the seed potatoes for next year.
I will be straightforward here: my goal is to get to a point where we never have to buy potatoes from the store and this method provides us with fresh, awesome potatoes during the summer and fall, and enough stored to get through the winter and spring. My guess is that 30-50 lbs a year would do us very well, and I can't wait to see how much this yields.
Do you agree that potatoes are one of the first homesteading crops you should grow? Or are they just too easy and cheap to buy in the store? As always, TIPS AND KNOWLEDGE WELCOME! And you can see all of my beginner homesteading experiences here.
Hello, there! My name is Nikki Jones and this is a place for me to write about my travels, my urban homesteading adventures, and whatever else my little heart desires at a given moment. Like many personal-blog bloggers, there are times I write daily and long streteches I'm not inspired to write at all. And that's ok! At any rate, I'm glad you're here.