Of all the vegetables, potatoes are the ultimate comfort food. Nearly everything pairs well with some form of potato. As easy as they are to grow, if you have the space, definitely consider this nice little addition to the garden.
How to grow potatoes
Potatoes thrive in temperatures between 60-70° F and begin to go dormant when the hot summer temperatures arrive. They are a perfect summer crop in more northern climates and more of a spring/fall crop in the Deep South. Potatoes need very loose fertile soil with good aeration to get a significant harvest. We are trying out the two most popular methods of growing potatoes: potato towers and in a garden bed with mulch.
Types of potatoes
The type of potatoes you grow determines how you grow it and when you plant it. Potatoes are categorized by the length of season into early, mid, and late season types. To maximize the benefits of using a potato tower, use a mid or late season variety. These varieties spread throughout the tower better than short season making full use of it.
When to plant
In the north, potatoes can be planted anytime during the summer for a fall harvest. Southerners should plant potatoes in late winter or early spring because the plants will die back during the hot summer months. Some southern gardeners have had success planting in late winter to harvest in the early summer. Then, the tubers are allowed to enter dormancy for a couple of months and replanted in the late summer for an early winter harvest. This is definitely something we are going to be trying out.
A couple of days before planting the potatoes, cut the spuds up into smaller pieces making sure each piece has at least a couple of eyes or sprouts on them. Waiting a bit after cutting the potatoes up helps the skin toughen up and reduces the chances of rotting. Then, you are ready to plant them.
Potatoes in the garden
To prepare a planting bed for potatoes, loosen the soil at least 10 inches deep. Double digging works great for this. Mix in about one pound of compost per square foot of planting area. Potatoes are heavy feeders, so go on the heavier side with the compost. It’s good to get a soil test and supplement the soil with anything else based on the results. After preparing the soil, here are the next steps:
Dig trenches 4 inches deep to plant the potatoes
Plant the potatoes about 12 inches apart in the trenches.
Rake the soil smooth and water. It’s as simple as that.
Once the plant breaks the ground, start mulching with compost, straw, hay, or leaves. Continue mulching periodically until the summer heat hits and the plants begin to die back. To harvest, dig up your potatoes and enjoy.
Potato towers better incorporate vertical growth of the plants. It’s a great way to save space or to grow potatoes in more urban areas. Starting with a container that acts as a wall to hold in the soil, potatoes are planted in a compost mix surrounded with hay. The hay retains moisture and composts over time providing additional nutrients to the tower.
How to build a potato tower
- Seed potatoes
- Compost (Do not use manure)
- Chicken Wire
- Metal Stakes (optional)
Start by measuring out the the wire cage for the tower. I just tried to create something about 2 feet wide.
Cut the cage to fit the area. If your cut leaves long enough wires, you can weave them together to attach the ends. Otherwise, you can use recycled wire or even zip ties.
Use metal stakes to anchor the cage into place. This is important if your potato tower is on a slope (like ours).
Once your tower cage is in place, add a couple buckets worth of hay.
Push the hay towards the edges to create a thick nest like barrier. Add more hay to fill in any spots that are a little thin.
Add a few inches of compost to the bottom. Be sure to keep pushing the hay into the sides as you add more compost.
Start placing the seed potatoes into the tower. I ended up with about 5-6 per medium potatoes per tower. Cover with a few more inches of compost. Water this in and you are all set.
When the plants start to emerge and leaf out, start adding more hay and compost. Keep doing this until the potato tower is full or the heat hits and it’s harvest time. To harvest, just lift the cage off and grab the potatoes out.
We can’t wait to see how this duel of growing potatoes ends. Have you had any luck growing potatoes in your garden? What different methods have you tried?