Sunday, March 17, 2013

Growing Potatoes

Potatoes are closely related to tomatoes and other members of the nightshade family, including eggplants, peppers, petunias and tobacco.  Unlike their warmer weather relatives, potatoes are from a cooler mountainous region of the Andes Mountains in South America, and after Europeans brought them across the Atlantic Ocean, they have become a food staple in many countries that do not have long and hot growing seasons.  Potato plants store energy in their roots, which form tubers, and these tubers also allow them to reproduce.  Rather than planting seeds, we generally plant smaller tubers to grow more potatoes.  This type of reproduction produces identical genetic clones of the parent plant.

Steps to grow potatoes.     

Step 1)    Purchase organic potatoes from your local grocery store or farmer’s market.  Conventionally grown potatoes are usually treated with chemicals that prevent eyes from growing; however we need these eyes to grow our potato plants.  When a potato produces little sprouts, those sprouts are often referred to as “eyes”.

Step 2) Place a few potatoes in a dark and cool place.  February or early March is the ideal time to do this.  Occasionally check to see if eyes are forming.

eyes starting to form
Step 3) After a few eyes have formed, and a month before the last frost, cut potato into several one or two inch pieces, each having at least one eye.  Let these sit in the same cool, dark place for a few days or longer, to form calluses on the exposed flesh.

Step 4)    Plant potato pieces on top of a few inches of compost or dirt, with the eyes facing upward.  These eyes will become the plants, not roots, so it is very important to not point them downward.  Cover with a few more inches of soil or compost.  It’s best to plant in a deep container or trench, so you can build layers as the plant grows.  Tubers will grow out of the stem as more of the plant is covered.

Step 5)    Soon there will be very unique looking little sprouts, and soon these will form leaves that seem more developed than the typical seedling.  The small plants will grow very fast during their first couple of weeks.

Step 6)  When the plant is eight inches tall, bury half of it with compost or soil.  Keep repeating until you run out of space or the plant blooms.  As mentioned above, we bury part of the plant so the formerly exposed stems will produce more tubers once underground.  This will greatly increase the yield of potatoes, as the roots and tubers to do not keep growing deep into the ground.  So, to create more layers of tubers, we have to keep raising the dirt level.

Step 7)  When the leaves start to wither and die, stop watering for a few weeks and then harvest.  Dig gently around the plant, being careful not to bruise the potatoes.  If potatoes are growing in a container, it’s easier to dump out all of the dirt and look for the potatoes, rather than dig for them.

Step 8)  Brush off excess dirt and leave potatoes in a root cellar or a dry, dark place for a few weeks.  This will allow the skin to cure and then the potatoes will be able to store for many months.

No comments:

Post a Comment