Grocery Store Gardener: Potatoes
The common grocery store potato should be a natural choice as a seed potato for your garden. To tell you the truth I don’t think I have spent money on spring planting potatoes for quite a number of years from a seed catalog. It never crossed my mind that I was using a grocery store to buy my planting stock until recently. This is because old time grocery stores always had seed racks and stock for the home gardeners to plant. Why buy from a seed catalog when these could be had when shopping. Seed potatoes and onion sets were two garden plants I bought every year from the local market. I frequently used grocery stores to let me know when it was time to plant these too. Spring fever usually began by grabbing a handful of onions and a small paper bag of potatoes just as soon as they were marketed in my favorite store.
You may notice that I chose to include 3 images of the price per pound for locally grown organic potatoes for this hub. The images all came from my local food coop called Bloomingfoods. I include these because the price for food potatoes is about 20% of the price per pound as listed in my favorite seed catalog for 2015. Don’t get me wrong. I place a large order with this company every year. And, even though they have some cool specialty potatoes, I’ll stick to my favorite grocery store for my seed potatoes.
I like the russet for its great baking quality. These potatoes are able to take heat and will stay dry when baked or roasted. I like the thin red skinned potatoes for the various soups I make during the winter. I live off of soups and stew most of the cooler part of the year. Sometimes I like to use Yukon Gold’s for soups where I want the potato to “disintegrate”. The red skinned and Yukon Gold are both good for quick microwave cooked potatoes. The food I like Yukon Gold the best is for mashed potatoes. The rich creamy flavor works well as a mashed potato.
Your Regular Store or Food Coop?
Bloomingfood’s had some other potatoes available too. There were some finger potatoes as well as some blue. One can find almost as many specialty potatoes as a garden catalog. Selection should not be a major concern for using your grocery store as a seed potato source.
I mention my food coop because the availability of local organic produce is found here. I have used organic potatoes from my regular commercial grocery. The reason local is important is because you will be growing potatoes that have been successful for your own garden location. Even though the potatoes we buy at the grocery store should all be clones of each other I, probably superstition influenced, believe the slight local influence does impact next season’s yield. Organic means that the potatoes have not been treated with a chemical to retard sprouting.
I have used regular commercial potatoes too as seed potatoes. I am frugal enough to realize that since the treatment to prevent sprouting is considered “not harmful to human consumption” will be even less in next season’s crop. When I have a potato where the eyes are growing, I separate this potato and keep in my crisper under close observation. The crisper is well below the normal soil temperature of about 45 or 50 degrees before most growth commences. I just have to watch and make sure the potato doesn’t begin to dehydrate. I wrap these in a moist cloth in the crisper. Usually the dehydrated potato accepts the bit of moisture and slows down its shrinkage.
4 Methods for Growing Potatoes
Growing potatoes is the easiest of easy. Traditional methods call for digging a trench 8 inches deep. Place the potato in the trench separated by a foot or so along the valley. Then cover the trench. Most sources recommend pulling soil between the rows and using it to hill up around the sprouts. The extra soil around the emerging shoots helps promote additional root growth. The potatoes that develop tend to be up about at the soil level, too, which make harvesting a bit easier. Be sure to use a garden fork and begin turning over the row well away to avoid damage.
Another popular method is similar to the traditional method except that a trench is not dug first. The potatoes are set right on top of the soil. Often, instead of soil between the rows being used to hill up, a good organic farmer will use compost. This is choke full of 100 percent useful organic micro fauna like beneficial bacteria, trace minerals and plenty of useful macro nutrients. At the end of the season it is more or less a matter of pushing over the mounded compost and pulling out the tubers at harvest. The old compost is turned in to the soil after harvest.
I have heard that some are doing well with straw bale farming and potatoes. This method has the advantage of holding moisture without being too wet. Compost tea water is used each and every watering to provide the necessary minerals and bio divergent micro organisms. 5 of the 6 sides of a straw bale can be seeded with potatoes. The potato growing area can hold considerably more in a smaller area than traditional methods. And don’t forget the best reason is at harvest. Cutting the baling string allows the bale to fall open making harvest just a process of reaching and grabbing. The old straw is used as bedding or can be turned into the soil.
I would use the straw method if it was easier for me to bring to the garden. I use the tub method myself. I like this because I rotate old soil to different containers each year. A particular plant does not overstress the same soil two seasons in a row. This reduces disease such as a virus that can impact potatoes. The other reason is I can formulate the soil so that it best suits the potatoes growing needs. Potatoes like a porous, loose, light weight media. Water generally flows out of these soils with good drainage. This means I can supply the couple of inches of water a week potatoes need for superior growth without the worry of the tubers being in too much water.
Containers Encourage Individual Attention
Growing in containers allows me to formulate individualized feedings and watering for their specific needs. During the heavy growth period they need plenty of food and water. Shortly after they flower and begin to turn yellow I know to ease up on the water and stop feeding. These are signals that the plant is going into dormancy and they are about ready to dig. I don’t need to ease up on watering the rest of my garden plants just because I need to stop for the potato.
Potatoes also like to be just a bit acidic. Their preferred Ph is about 6. Now, I have to tell you I have never adjusted the Ph for my potatoes. Potatoes are really very forgiving. They will grow in a wide range of conditions. Some gardeners do like to control for the Ph as another way to produce abundant crops. This is another condition one can monitor and provide individual attention when growing in a container.
And, the best reason I like to grow in a container is the harvesting. All I do is tip the container over and pick through the rubble. Easy! I don’t damage even one potato with my garden fork.
I do make sure to mark the containers I use for each garden plant like the potato. This helps next season so I can rotate containers as well as soil. They are usually about the first vegetable I plant since I plant potatoes beginning as early as I can. This lets me easily find a new container with different soil. It is also the last I plant for the season too. I make sure that I save a container that did not have potatoes in it the previous year. The top 3 inches of soil in a container is new sterile potting media (means less weeding J)
I can usually plant potatoes until about the end of June or until maybe the 4th of July and still get a good crop before frost. Sometimes potatoes will not go completely dormant in the late fall. They like the cool weather really well. I cut the vines that are still green a couple of inches away from the potato. As the tubers are drying for storage the rest of the vine is aborted.
Now, in January, is a good time to begin collecting your potatoes to plant this spring. Keep an eye out for sales. If you have some for food that are beginning to sprout then segregate them in their own section in the vegetable crisper. And, keep an eye out for unusual varieties that occasionally make an appearance in grocery stores for various reasons. I like to find tubers that are a bit bigger than my thumb and middle finger wrapped around them. These make great seed potatoes. You can cut large potatoes down in size but why. You have to be careful to dry the cut thoroughly to prevent disease. That is too much trouble for me. I always lose some of these and that irritates my miserly qualities.
I’m hoping you set out some potatoes this spring. Even if you have a small patio space I want to encourage you to include a container of potatoes. The plants are not that unattractive with their deep green color. The reward of the harvest towards a special dinner for your special someone makes for a memorable evening.