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One Potato, Two Potato, Hopefully More

One of the joys of winter is to sit down with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and thumb through garden books and catalogues.   Visions of a riot of color from  gorgeous flowers (does it really matter that my yard is shaded by many tall trees and the descriptions say “full sun”) and bountiful vegetable harvests (surely there is a shade tolerant tomato) always seem to intoxicate me into ordering or purchasing many more seeds and products than any reasonable person needs or can use.  Of course, most of the sunny place flowers struggle, get lanky, then die a slow death in the shade of my yard; and, so far, I haven’t discovered a shade tolerant productive tomato.  Yet spring holds such promise, and occasionally I find a particular variety of full sun plant that tolerates shade, that I forget the failures of last year and try again.  After all, some experiments turn out well.

     For the past two years the Garden’s vegetable guru, Jim,  has experimented with the “trash can” method of planting potatoes.  If you are not familiar with this method there are several  YouTube videos showing literally pounds and pounds of potatoes being harvested from potato sets planted in 30 gallon trash cans.  To construct a “trash can” potato bin, a drainage hole is made in the bottom of a plastic trash can, Seed potatoes are planted at the bottom of the can in a few inches of soil, then as the potato plants grow to about eight inches tall enough soil (in the Garden’s case, the Garden’s homemade compost) is added to cover them half way up the stem.  At the end of the season, the trash can is dumped and the potatoes are harvested.  An easy way to grow potatoes?  It certainly sounds like it.  However Jim reported that in the first year’s experiment, the Garden’s trash can potatoes rotted.  Guessing that perhaps there wasn’t enough drainage, the second year Jim tried putting 2” drainage holes around the side of the can.  Once again, though the plants themselves were huge and vigorous since they were growing in all that compost, the actual potato yield was small and many of the potatoes continued to rot. 

     A failed experiment, perhaps….  however one always learns something.  Jim surmised that perhaps the problem was that the potato plants were not getting enough sun.  Potatoes need full sun and the opaque trash can shaded them unless the sun was directly overhead.    It wasn’t until months later when the plants grew over the top of the can that they were in full sun throughout the day.

     So, this year, the Garden is trying two methods to grow potatoes.  The first, in the garden’s raised bed, is the usual “trench method” where a trough about 6”-8” deep and about 4” wide is dug.  Seed potatoes that have been cured and dusted with sulfur are planted about 12”-15” apart and covered with about 4” of soil.  As the potatoes sprout, the soil is “hilled”/backfilled around the stems since potatoes grow in the space between the seed potato and the surface of the soil.    

Red La Soda Potatoes, Dusted With Sulfur, Ready For Planting

                                                               . 

    The second experimental method being tried is Jim’s homemade 2’x2’ potato bin constructed from 1”x6” treated lumber (one can also use untreated lumber or cedar).  As the potatoes plants grow to about 12” tall, another 6” panel of lumber will be added to the bin and enough soil added to bury 1/3 of the plant. 

New Potato Bin At The Demonstration Garden

The advantage to this type of bin as opposed to the trash can method will not only be increased drainage but also the potato plants will be able to receive full sun throughout the day since more panels can be added as the potato vines grow taller.  Will this method produce a better crop of mature potatoes?  Who knows….. but that’s the fun of experimenting.

     There are many other methods (potato bags/wire bins lined with newspaper/etc) used to plant potatoes.   Do you have a favorite method for planting potatoes?   If so, let us know.  This year in my community garden plot, I plan to try “laundry basket” potatoes:  cutting out the bottom of a plastic laundry basket and using it like a cage to hold the mounded soil around my potatoes.  If it works, I’ll let you know the results.  If not, I’ve only lost several small seed potatoes plus three dollars to purchase three laundry baskets from the Dollar Store.  So tell us your method— and Happy Experimenting!!

Carolyn

10 responses »

  1. My kids and I grew them in a nice big pot last year.. we had a small harvest but I didn’t really add soil as quickly as I could have (the plants were pretty lanky). I’m going to try again this year. There are a few posts about it on my blog. I do have one question, why the treated wood? Wouldn’t you want to avoid the chemicals, especially with potatoes? just wondering? Enjoyed this post!

    Reply
  2. Hi–
    Thank you for your question. Like you, I asked Jim about why he chose treated wood to make his potato bin. Of course, treated wood will last a long, long time, while pine tends to rot after a few years. Cedar is a good choice, he said, but it too will eventually start to rot and is expensive.
    Jim said that he has checked several times with A&M about the potential toxicity of treated wood. His sources at A&M do not seem very concerned. He said that, opposed to in the past, treated wood is now treated with copper rather than arsenic. He did mention that some people will line bins made out of treated wood with plastic to keep the chemicals from leaching into the soil.
    As you can tell, there are no hard and fast rules about this. Everyone has a different tolerance for potential hazards. Just go with what you would feel best for you and your family.
    Carolyn

    Reply
  3. I’ve tried growing potatoes (grow bags) but haven’t been successful…yet. However, I can grow sweet potatoes. (purple sweet potatoes specifically) And from what I’ve read about the 2 ways you’re growing them, the 2nd way should work very well for you.

    Good luck with your potatoes!! 🙂

    Reply
  4. Great ideas! I am curious to hear how it works out! Keep us posted!

    Reply
  5. Yes–Please let us know how this works. Sounds like a good idea. I love the creativity and experimentation involved in gardening.

    Reply
  6. Hello. I am getting ready to order seed potato. (We have ordered heirloom seed for other veggies, but it doesn’t seem that that would matter with potatoes.)

    Please help me know what varieties grow well in this area. It’s been difficult to find information on the net. Thank you!

    Reply
    • I just plant the potato variety that one of our community gardeners bring. I don’t even know what variety it is.
      Last year I did plant some blue potatoes I bought at Lowes. They did multiply and were fun to see. However I don’t think they did as well as other more recommended varieties. Carolyn

      Reply
    • My Master Gardener info says for red potato – Norland (early), Red LaSoda (midseason) and white potato – Kennebec. Last couple of years at Joe Field we planted Red LaSoda with some success. I have planted Red Pontiac in my personal garden. Good luck. Jim

      Reply
      • Thank you for the tips. I did later find a gardening book for Texas that confirmed all the varieties you mention. I will try to locate these!

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