There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling. ~ Mirabel Osler
You might recall, a few months back, Husband took me to the dump for my birthday.
While there, I found a fantastic wicker coffee table base.
This rejected wicker coffee table was destined for a new life as my potato planter.
I had originally planned to plant my potatoes in a tyre-totem. You layer mulch and poo in the tyre round, and as the potatoes shoot, add more manure and mulch and tyres. Sounds like a great idea, right? But a bit of research killed this idea as potatoes accumulate heavy metals like cadmium and mercury and other chemicals from tyres you don’t want in your food.
I had purchased a big bag of Mary Lou seed potatos from my local hardware store. They were certified virus free (always a relief) as opposed to purchasing unpedigreed potatoes from the supermarket. While I would have preferred a variety of interesting spuds, there appear to be quarantine restrictions of potatoes too. So while the Diggers catalog was teasing me with assorted colours and flavours, I, once again, lusted from afar.
(I have since discovered Tasmanian Gourmet Potatoes who ship their 26 potato varieties Australia wide! I just purchased Sapphire and Dutch Cream varieties. Get in quick, there are a few varieties already sold out.)
Potatoes can be prepared for planting by “chitting”. Or, in other words, letting the “eyes” sprout about 2cm shoots before planting them in the ground. I have developed a knack for this, having kept my eating potatoes in the bottom of the pantry where they “chit” away unchecked before I get around to eating them! Large tubers can be cut into smaller pieces (ensuring each has at least one “eye”) before planting. My Mary-Lou’s were quite small so I didn’t bother, they went in whole.
So when planting time arrived, I placed my wicker planter in the bed, laid down a layer of composted sheep poo and sugarcane mulch and placed the chitted potatoes around the interior. I repeated with another layer of manure, mulch and spuds and covered and gave it all a good watering in. As the shoots peeped from the top of the layer, I added more manure, more mulch, until, about 5 weeks later, we have made it right to the very top.
As you can see, the potato shoots grew through the cage, which is no problem for me.
Having a quite a few seed potatoes left after planting the wicker frame, I planted some under my sugar snap peas, and a few found themselves by the greenhouse (thanks kids!). But they are all growing very well indeed!
There are a few golden rules for good potatoes;
- The longer your potatoes grow, the bigger they’ll be.
- Potatoes exposed to sunlight will turn green, and will be toxic so make sure that they are well covered. Don’t eat green potatoes!
- You can harvest new (baby) potatoes selectively and gently without killing the plant. Just cover the plant and remaining spuds with soil once harvested. The new potatoes have thin skin and don’t keep well, so plan to eat them ASAP.
- Check your companion planting guides for compatible plants, but potatoes and tomatoes should not be planted together or before or after the other. As members of the same solanum family, they share diseases.
- Potatoes like to be kept damp. Let them dry out and you’ll end up with scabby spuds. I’ll be harvesting the last of mine well before the summer heat kicks in.
- If you are using purchased composts in your layers, check on the bag for cadmium and mercury. Don’t plant potatoes in tyres.
I have to say, potatoes are one of the easiest veggies I have yet to grow. The garden pests seem to ignore them. By using the wicker basket, they don’t take up a lot of room either. My next batch I am going to try growing in hessian bags, using the same layering method as I did with the wicker frame. That way, I am not taking up room in the beds, and soil remaining after the potatoes are harvested can be tossed into the compost.
You can check on the progress of your crop very easily, but the best time to harvest is after flowering, as the plant yellows and withers. Keeping the potatoes in the ground for a few weeks after will ensure that the skins will toughen and their storage quality will improve as a result.
Have you tried growing potatoes? Any success secrets to share?
WOW! just got back from the supermarket where a kilo of brushed, organic Delaware potatoes cost $5.99. Pricey spuds!