Early to mid Spring is the time of year when you can plant your early potatoes in the ground. This week we will be looking at growing potatoes in pots or a tire stack. This beginners guide to growing potatoes also include some information on storing potatoes and how to prepare seed potatoes.
Potatoes are a great staple crop to grow for your family. They store well in a cool dark cupboard, and who doesn’t love new potatoes fresh from the garden with a big blob of butter!
The benefits to growing potatoes in pots
The big problem with potatoes and tubers in general is that even the *tiniest* tuber left in the ground will sprout again.
The ways to get around this problem are :
1) Grow your tubers in the same spot year after year – though this isn’t ideal as you increase the risk of disease and soil depletion when you don’t practise crop rotation.
2) Grow your potatoes in a pot or a container of some sort.
You can buy potato grow bags, or grow them in buckets, but the method I like best is to grow them in stacks of tires.
There are several reasons why I like to grow potatoes in tyres:
• You can get tires for free from any tire store
• It keeps the tires out of the landfill
• You can keep adding more tires and more soil or mulch easily
• Harvesting the potatoes is incredibly easy.
• It creates a dark tire wall that acts as a heat sink to grow heat loving plants near.
There is some discussion about the safety of using tires for growing food in. From what I have read and come to understand, I am happy to use them.
The argument is that tires will leech bad things in to the soil, but I understand that much of the chemicals that they are going to leech, they do so over the couple of years that they are used on the roads, by the end of their useful road life, they are fairly inert.
Growing Potatoes in Pots
This is super easy!
- Grab a bucket or plant pot that is at least a foot tall (30cm). Place 1 inch (2.5cm) of gravel or stones on the bottom of the pot.
- Add 2 inches (5cm) of potting mix or rich garden soil in the potato pot.
- Add one sprouted potato (see below) with the shoots facing upwards.
- Cover the the potato with 4 inches of soil and keep moist but not soggy
- As the plant grows, cover the greens almost totally with soil until the pot is full.
- Continue to water as required.
- After the plant flowers you can harvest your new, fresh potatoes. If you want to store them, leave them to mature until the tops start to die off.
Making a Potato Tire Stack
You will need 4-5 old car tires, a strong stake and a couple of wheel barrows full of either soil or mulch material for each potato plant that you want to grow.
Step one: Place a tire on the ground so it is laying flat like a donut.
Step two: Place a sprouted (or not) potato in the tire.
Step three: Push or hammer a stake into the ground next to the potato, near the inside edge of the tire. You can do this without a stake, but we prefer a stake to prevent the stack blowing over in the wind.
Step four: Fill the tire with dirt and firmly press it down.
Step five: Water the potato.
Repeat until all your seed potatoes are planted.
As the plants grow: Each time the growth gets to the top of the tire, place a new tire on the stack and fill it with either dirt or mulch, covering up most of the plant’s leaves.
Keep repeating until either
a) you run out of tires or
b) the plant flowers. Once the potato is in flower it is unlikely to produce more tubers, but it will fatten the ones that it has.
Keep the stack watered to encourage good sized tubers.
Once the tops start to die back: Remove the tires and collect your potatoes.
New potatoes can be harvested any time from when the plant starts to flower, but the longer you leave it, the bigger they will be.
For potatoes that you want to store, leave them in the ground until the tops have died back, this ensures that they are fully mature, and helps them develop stronger skins for storage.
How to store potatoes
Remove the potatoes from the ground, dust most of the dirt off and leave them in a single layer to dry off in the sun.
Once they are dry you can store them in thick paper sacks or cardboard boxes somewhere cool, dark and slightly humid.
A root cellar is idea, or a laundry cupboard will suffice.
Check over them regularly and remove any spoiled ones.
How to chit seed potatoes – Sprouting potatoes
Potatoes aren’t actually grown from seeds. Even though some potato plants will grow small berries that look a lot like tomatoes (please don’t eat these, they are very toxic!) you actual use a potato to grow other potatoes!
At a garden center you can buy ‘seed potatoes’ these are no different to potatoes you grow in your garden, or buy at the grocer. The only difference is that seed potatoes are certified to not be carrying specific diseases.
So, this means that you can actually plant any potato. In fact you may find that even your potato peelings/scraps will sometimes grow!
To ensure a nice strong, productive potato plant, it is best to chit (or spout) your potatoes before planting them.
This is actually very easy to do. All you need is a tray lined with paper that your potatoes can sit on without touching each other. Lay your spuds on the tray and place the tray in a cool dark place for 3-4 weeks.
The potatoes should have started to sprout in this time. If you are short on seed potatoes, you can cut bigger sprouted potatoes in half, or even in quarters before planting them out.
You do need to make sure that each piece has at least one ‘eye’ or sprout on it.
Once the sprouts are 1-4 inches long they are ready to plant out in the garden, pots, containers or a tyre stack.
How do you grow your potatoes? Let me know in the comments below!
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