Growing Potatoes is Easy and Fun

Potatoes have really gotten a bad rap lately. Too much starch, too many calories, too fattening. While some of it may be true, the key is moderation.

How To Grow Potatoes

What’s in a Potato?

Yes, potatoes have starch. And yes, starch is closely related to sugar. But one potato, even once a day, will not pack on the pounds. And the vitamins and minerals far outweigh the downside. The calories in most potatoes come from the toppings, not the potato itself. And of course, the fattening part comes from the calories. Potatoes are low in fat, and even if you add a teaspoon of butter, it still won’t be fattening.  They’re high in vitamin C (27 mg in a medium potato), potassium, and vitamin B6; they contain thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and a good deal of fiber.

A Brief History of the Potato

Potatoes came to this country over 400 years ago and have been cultivated for more than 7,000 years. They originated in Peru and Bolivia, where wild strains still exist. Today there are over 4000 varieties in many different colors; some of the most interesting are the blue and purple varieties. They are not only beautiful, they also contain the antioxidant anthocyanin, and folks always get a kick out of these colored gems.

Growing Potatoes

Growing potatoes couldn’t be easier!

Starting

How To Grow Potatoes 1

Take a medium potato that has started to sprout. If you look in the bag under your sink you’ll probably see a science experiment or alien creature starting to form. That’s what you want. You can use fresh potatoes, but sometimes they don’t work as well. Cut the potato into a few chunks, each having a few “eyes,” or sprouting points. Allow to dry out overnight. If you don’t have time, you can plant them right away, but they’re more susceptible to rotting. Dried chunks produce the best results.

Planting

How To Grow Potatoes 2

The next day, take a large container, like a 13 gallon trash can or a tightly woven burlap bag, and drill or cut a few holes in the bottom. Line the holes with coffee filters – don’t worry, they’ll biodegrade – and put about 3 inches of dirt in the bottom. Just about any kind of dirt will do, provided it contains some compost or manure. Take your potato chunks and place them on the dirt, cut side down. Cover the sprouts with soil. Water well and place in a sunny spot. In a few days to a week, your potatoes will start to push their way upward. As they get taller, add more soil around the stem. They will do fine outside if the weather is above freezing.

Freeze and pest control

If it’s going to freeze, place a towel or sheet over the top to protect the plants. The roots will be fine unless you get a really hard frost that freezes the ground a few inches. If you think that might happen, bring them in for a day or two. Later in the summer months, make sure they get enough water and watch for potato bugs. If you see any of these critters you should drown them and their eggs in soapy water. Or feed them to your chickens if you have some. (More organic pest control options here.)

Fertilizing

Use a high phosphorus fertilizer. The middle number of N-P-K is phosphorus and is responsible for root development. Something like a 5-16-5 would be good. Don’t worry too much about the numbers. If you get a fertilizer that says it’s for blooms, it almost always has high phosphorus. Because better roots = more blooms. Works on almost everything that way. (Get organic fertilizers here.)

Harvesting

Your potatoes will flower around mid-summer. That’s your signal to start sneaking baby potatoes. You will be able to get small ones, maybe ping-pong ball size. After a while, the plant will turn yellow and die. (If you have one of the varieties that produce fruits, you can dry out the seeds and plant them. DON’T eat the fruit. It’s poisonous!) When the plant dies, it’s at the end of its life cycle. You can take the whole bucket and tip it onto a tarp. All of the potatoes and dirt will fall out. Pull the dead plant out and throw it in the trash. Don’t compost it, as any number of pests could carry over. Pull out all your potatoes and put your dirt in a different bucket. You can then plant another crop using this recycled dirt. I’ve grown potatoes here in North Carolina in the winter. You don’t get any leaves and the potatoes are small, but hey, they’re potatoes!

Storing

When you get your potatoes harvested, keep them cool with some humidity. A refrigerator is great. They’ll keep a long time if kept cool. You’ll be able to use them all fall and winter if you keep them cool enough. Then in the middle of winter, you can make Healthy French Fries. Healthy? You bet! You can also use them to make Bulgarian Potato Salad.

Another Baked French Fry Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 medium potato per person, cut into strips
  • 1 egg white, beaten with some salt, pepper, ground rosemary, and enough water so the mixture can be sprayed

Directions

  1. Place potatoes on an greased baking sheet using your favorite healthy fat (Matt and Betsy use tallow, lard, coconut oil, or olive oil). (Find healthy fats here.)
  2. Put your egg white mixture in a spray bottle and spray the fries.
  3. Bake at 350º until the outsides are crispy, but insides tender. (Baking time depends on the size of your cut so just test them.)

Add your favorite seasonings. I love rosemary, but cajun seasoning is great too. You can use seasoned salt or just plain ole salt and pepper.

Bonus

Oh, and when you peel the potatoes, cut the peel a bit deeper. Add the peelings to your potato container and voila! More potato plants!

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Comments

  1. I seem to be the only person who can’t succeed at container potatoes. Maybe it’s the fertilizer angle I’ve been missing. I will try it once again this summer and see if that helps. The only potatoes I’ve grown for years are blue potatoes. The All Blue is a good producer. The Purple Majesty doesn’t produce as well, but is has AMAZING color. They are both short season. I can plant some in a bare patch of the garden at the end of July – even up to mid-August – and still dig a few potatoes after frost.

    • What part of the country do you live in? If you’re father north, you can start them indoors and take them out later. And yes, you can dig them after it freezes. I was digging Jerusalem Artichokes last week and found a few small potatoes with them. They had all been together at one time over a year ago.

  2. I’ve tried this tecnique many times and only the last time succeeded in getting it to grow! So excited. I’m a bit forgetful when it comes to watering. Anyways, I live in Malawi and the locals say that it’s too hot here for potatoes. I know potatoes like sun, do you suppose I can maybe pick a less direct sunny spot in our heat? Or maybe a roof?
    The local potatoes have a reddish skin, much like a sweet potato and are very small. About 2 will fit into the palm of my hand.
    I like the bag idea. Another idea that I like is the one in this post (http://its-our-life-for-six.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/expectations-and-disappointments.html). They just look functional!
    Great post. Thanks!

    • I’m not familiar with your area, but have tried in Florida, where it gets too hot in the summer. I had success in the winter and in a partially shaded area. So you are probably right about that. I wouldn’t use the roof, but maybe the north side of a house or shed. They don’t need as much water after they are established, about an inch a week. Just be sure they get at least 4 hours of sun a day. Let me know how it goes!

  3. Great Post! Very informative. I tried potatoes last year and got plants but no flowers. There was no significant change from the tiny potatoes I originally planted. They were Yukon Gold for planting, that I bought. Would like to try again.
    Love your newsletter. Thanks.

    • Keep trying. I’ve had problems with a few potatoes, and never the same thing twice. I haven’t tried Yukon Gold yet, but have done a lot of reds and russets. The purple is next along with some Klondike Rose.

  4. Hi, I so enjoy your site! I’m wondering if we grow sweet potatoes the same way? I eat more of theses and it seems to be hard to find a store that carries a good organic brand. Thanks for helping us learn and enjoy DIY.

    • Sweet potatoes are from a different family and need to be done differently. You could just plant the whole thing, but for better success, I’ll be doing an article on them soon. Just waiting for a little bit warmer weather!

  5. Almost every other site I’ve looked at says to not store potatoes in the refrigerator. Thus I am confused.

      • Matt’s right on this one. One reason may be that potatoes give off a gas that may cause fruits to spoil faster. All vegetative matter gives off gasses, but some more than others. So you could have a problem if you store them in the refrigerator. I never have, but them I use things up pretty quickly. If you’re worried, you can put them into a glass jar in the fridge to store them.

  6. If I plant small potatoes will I get small potatoes or are they just small because they were picked early… first year planting potatoes in containers or ever.

    • The size of the potatoes depends on the variety grown, amount of sun, fertilizer and water, and stage at which the potato is harvested. The original size if the individual spud makes no difference.

  7. THERE IS A WEB SITE SHOWING HUGH POTATOES THAT KEEP A LONG TIME AND THEY ARE GROWN IN ROCK DUST AND COMPOST…..I AM TRYING THAT THIS YEAR, JUST A FEW POTATOES…I USE AZOMITE FOR MY ROCK DUST…..ROY

    REMINERALIZE THE EARTH…IS WHERE I FOUND THE IDEA….

  8. Nice tips , but i have a small garden in my backyard so any tips on how to do it directly in ground? Thanks for wonderful idea.

  9. This sounds cool! But I have some questions: when do I plant them here in wnc Spring? Fall too? How many potatoes come from one chunk of potato? So just wait til the pant dies then dig up the potato or pour it out (where can I get those cute bags from the picture?!) Approximately how long is that for say russet s? If the plant doesn’t come up – you said this may happen in winter- how long do you wait to dig?
    Looking forward to some fries!!!!