Crazy Ways with Potatoes

Friday, April 14th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Last chance to plant asparagus roots this year. This delicious vegetable will keep producing for up to 20 years.
    • Plant summer-flowering bulbs now. Glads, dahlias, callas, cannas and lilies will bloom this summer if planted soon.
    • Fertilize established roses now and begin spraying them for insect and disease problems. Neem oil is a very effective, less toxic spray that works against both insects and diseases.
    • Plant artichokes now. Fill a hole with one part humus and two parts soil and set out plants in full or part sun.
    • Petunias can be planted now. Their bright flowers will bloom all summer in hot, sunny locations and they will take a light frost.

Crazy Ways with Potatoes

Potatoes are a staple both in the kitchen and in the garden. And winter without home-grown potatoes is just not the same. Spring is potato-planting time and gardeners are anxious to get their spuds in the ground, but with the continuing rains, that has become a difficult job.

Fortunately, potatoes can be grown in a number of different ways that don’t involve digging in the wet soil. They can be grown in cages, in bags, old tires or even in a bag of potting soil.

Potatoes grow differently from most “root” vegetables. They grow from the stems of the plant rather than from the roots. This means that they will develop above the seed potato that you plant. So if you keep adding soil around the stems of the plants as they push upward, more and more potatoes will grow.

This makes potatoes uniquely adapted to growing in cages. And by growing them vertically, you get a nice crop in less space, and they are easy to harvest.

To make a cage for potatoes, take a length of 3-foot wire fencing, and form it into a cylinder, 2–3 feet in diameter. Secure the cage in the soil and line it with straw, cardboard, or even newspaper.

Put 6 inches of soil in the bottom and place the sprouted potatoes on the soil, 6–8 inches apart. Cover them with 4 inches of potting soil, compost or straw. After the potato sprouts poke through the soil’s surface, allow them to grow about 6–8 inches tall and develop a few leaves, before gently filling around them with more of the potting soil, and water well. Continue layering with more potting soil for about a month as the plants get taller. Then neglect them for a while.

When you see blooms on the plants, that means new potatoes are forming. The potatoes are ready to harvest when the plants begin to yellow and die back. Remove the cage, and unearth your crop of potatoes.

Keep an eye on the moisture content of the soil throughout the season, because caged potatoes dry out more quickly than those planted in the ground.

An alternate method is to use old tires. Fill one tire with a soil mixture and poke 4 or 5 potatoes into the soil. Water them and wait for them to grow. When they reach 6 inches high, add a second tire and start adding potting soil around the sprouts. Continue mounding up the potting soil around the growing plants until your stack is 3 tires high. Young potatoes will form all the way up the stack of tires.

For an even simpler container, use a trash bag. Cut several drainage holes in the bottom of a 30-gallon black plastic trash bag. Roll down the sides of the bag and fill about one-third of the way up with potting soil. Plant the potatoes and continue mounding up the soil as the potatoes grow. To harvest, slit open the side of the bag to release the potatoes.

And here’s the lazy gardener method: take a bag of potting soil and empty 2/3 of the soil into a storage bin. Poke a few holes in the bottom of the bag, plant the potatoes into the soil in the bag, water and proceed as for the other methods.

Don’t let the weather stop you from growing your own potatoes this year.

It’s Potato Planting Time

Friday, April 5th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Tomatoes can be set out with protection. “Season Starter” will protect them down to 20°F and will give them a warm environment during the day so they develop faster.
    • Mouth-watering strawberries should be planted now for delicious berries this summer. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained bed.
    • Spring feeding of trees and shrubs can begin now. Mulch with manure or apply organic or commercial fertilizers.
    • Put up hummingbird feeders this month and enjoy these colorful and entertaining birds.
    • Last chance for asparagus roots this year. Prepare a fertile bed for these long-lived vegetables.

It’s Potato Planting Time

With the first days of spring, potatoes warm up, break dormancy and start growing. It is then time for you to prepare your site for planting.

You can pre-sprout seed potatoes to encourage early growth and development. Spread the tubers in an open box then put them in a warm room where they receive bright indirect sunlight. This will stimulate the growth of strong sprouts that are short and stubby and are not easily broken off. You can begin this process a week or two before you’re ready to plant your potatoes.

If you have large tubers, you should cut them into two to four pieces. Tubers the size of a hen’s egg may be planted whole. For larger tubers, cut the potato so that each piece contains one or more eyes. Be sure there is plenty of flesh around the eyes, since the plant will utilize this stored food during the first 2 or 3 weeks of growth. If the variety has many eyes, try for two or more eyes on each piece.

It is best to let these pieces, or “seeds,” dry overnight before planting. If the soil is wet, dust the cut sides with soil sulfur. If the weather is dry, you can plant the seeds immediately after cutting, without the sulfur dust.

Potatoes need well-drained soil that holds some moisture. Add compost to lighten heavy soils and support beneficial microbes. The soil pH should be 5.0-7.5. A lower pH will reduce the possibility of scab fungus. Also avoid adding lime or wood ashes, which raises soil pH.

To plant, dig trenches about 6 inches deep and 2 feet apart. Place the seed potatoes about 12 inches apart and then cover with 3 or 4 inches of soil. Don’t cover them too deep initially. Leave the extra soil beside the trench for later.

In about two weeks, green leaves will emerge. When the plants are about 8 inches high, gently pull the soil in around the plants leaving about 3 inches exposed. Potatoes develop in the soil above the seed potato, so as the potatoes grow, cover with more soil until you have barely covered the tops of the plants and have built up a ridge about 4 inches higher than ground level.

Some gardeners like to plant potatoes under mulch, typically straw. To do this, till the soil then push each seed into the ground until the top of the piece is at ground level. Then cover with 18 inches of mulch. Water occasionally but not too much.

You can also grow potatoes in vertical boxes or cages. Plant seed pieces 6-8 inches apart and cover with 4 inches of soil. As the plants grow, continue covering them until they stop growing, leaving 6 inches of plant exposed. This is a great way to grow a lot of potatoes in a limited space.

You can also grow potatoes in raised beds or even bags of various sorts. Remember that the ultimate depth of the seed will determine the amount of yield.

Choose seed potatoes now at local nurseries and have fun growing potatoes!

Versatile Potatoes

Thursday, April 19th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Tomatoes can be set out with protection. “Season Starter” will protect them down to 20°F and will give them a warm environment during the day.
    • Summer flower bulbs can be planted now. Choose from gladiolus, dahlias, begonias, lilies and more.
    • Flowering magnolias, or tulip trees can be grown in full sun or partial shade, as a lovely accent plant in any garden.
    • Put up hummingbird feeders this month and enjoy these colorful and entertaining birds.
    • Plant artichokes now. Fill a hole with one part humus and two parts soil and set out plants in full or part sun.

Versatile Potatoes

America’s most popular vegetable, the potato, can be boiled, baked, fried, microwaved, steamed, or roasted, with or without their peels. Combined with butter, sour cream, or oil they are rich and addictive, but left to themselves they’re quite low in calories and loaded with nutrients.

Potatoes with a high starch content, like russets, bake well and yield light and fluffy mashed potatoes.  Those with a low starch content, like red-skinned potatoes, hold their shape after cooking, and are great for making potato salads and scalloped potatoes.  Medium starch potatoes are called all-purpose potatoes, and they’ll work in most potato dishes. 

Baking potatoes are high in starch with a coarse, cork-like skin. For baked potatoes, Russet Burbank is the standard. But newer varieties like Rio Grande Russet and Norkotah Russet may give you higher yields. You can also have fine baked potatoes with Sangre 11, a red potato with white flesh, Mountain Rose, a red potato with red flesh, and Yellow Finn, a popular yellow potato. California White is also good baked.

Boiling potatoes are waxy and low in starch. They have a thin, smooth skin and are high in moisture and sugar, but low in starch. Many red potatoes are delicious boiled. Red La Soda is a classic boiler with sweet white flesh, and Sangre 11 is excellent for boiling and ranks high in taste tests. Red Gold has delicate yellow flesh and unique flavor. Modoc has bright red skin and is early maturing. Red Chieftain has dark red skin and white flesh and is slow to turn green in storage. Yellow Finn and Yukon Gold are also good boilers.

For mashed potatoes, look to Russets, of course, or Yukon Gold. Or try some of the reds like Mountain Rose, Red Pontiac or Red La Soda.

Salad potatoes need to hold up to boiling, so you can use Yellow Finn, Red Norland, and Red La Soda for salads. Colorado Rose, a red potato with white flesh, is also good for salads. All Blue, a blue potato with blue flesh, will add color and interest to your summer salads.

“All-purpose” potatoes are moister than baking potatoes and will hold together in boiling water. They are particularly well-suited to roasting, pan frying, and using in soups, stews, and gratins. They can be baked, mashed, and fried, but will not produce the same results as the bakers. Yukon Gold, Red Pontiac, California White and French Fingerlings fall into this category. Carola is a new yellow skinned potato with yellow flesh that is becoming very popular for its versatility and flavor.

Fingerling potatoes are gourmet potatoes that are more widely available now. There are many varieties of these small, finger-shaped potatoes, but they all tend to be low in starch, and great for roasting or making potato salads. Look for French Fingerlings, Russian Banana and Rose Finn Apple.

Try some new varieties and enjoy the many flavors of the versatile potato.