Thursday, April 12, 2012

Growin' Taters

This is the third year I have had a garden. In my other houses I have either not had enough room or the yard was totally in shade. I always wanted a nice garden, so I did try to plant edibles even when I couldn't plant regular gardens. I think I planted at least one fruit tree or bush (but usually two or more!) at every place we have lived.

Years ago I visited a friend who had a nice, big garden, and she served potatoes that she had just dug up. I still remember how delicious it was! Ever since then I wanted to try my hand at growing my own potatoes someday.

When I finally got to plan a garden at this home, I looked for a likely place for a potato bed. Unfortunately, the place I wanted to put it was all gravely and hard packed. I asked the neighbors, and they said that a previous tenant had put herbicide on the whole yard, then started to gravel the whole thing. He only got the back part of the yard graveled before he moved out, but by then the damage had been done. The yard was mostly bare dirt, and the many cars he parked all over the yard leaked all sorts of gasoline and oil everywhere. I was afraid to plant anything in the soil for fear of contamination.

The problem was eventually solved when I used raised beds for the garden, built up lasagna style. But I really wanted to plant potatoes. So I looked for ways to grow them in containers. One of the ways I read about was growing potatoes in wire bins or barrels. I didn't have any low cost or free barrels laying around, but wire is cheap, so I tried that.
The way I read sounded pretty easy. Just put a bin out, put dirt in, lay the seed potatoes on the dirt, and then add more dirt. Water once in a while and add more dirt when the plants grow up a bit, and you are good to go.

The first year I made three bins. I bought seed potatoes from online (darn expensive!) and put them in the bins. One of the blogs I read said that potatoes grew in almost anything. They suggested trying straw and sawdust. I had dried leaves. Lots of dried leaves. So I planted mine in those. I also gave them a bit of organic garden fertilizer too. They grew up through the leaves after about a month, and I covered them with more leaves until just a little of them poked out. They grew through that, and I covered them mostly all the way up again. They grew through those. By then the bins were a little more than half full, so I left them to grow.

That first year the potatoes produced just OK, because they only produced about three times the potatoes I put in. They were very yummy!

The next year I planted potatoes in bins again, but this year I bought the seed potatoes at a local big box store, where they were much less expensive than online. Again I planted them in dried leaves, and again I covered them over almost up to the top as they grew through the dried leaves. I watered them but I didn't feed them very much. We had a late spring and a very hot summer, so I probably should have watered them a bit more. But when we dumped out the bins, there were hardly any potatoes. We took out just about the same amount as we put in. It was disappointing, to say the least.

I asked around at the farmer's market, and one of the growers said she grows potatoes in bins too. But she uses dirt, compost and lots and lots of fertilizer. She figured that I didn't fertilize the potatoes enough.

This year I bought some potatoes online again. They were expensive, but I had a coupon and got them reasonably. They were due to be mailed at the end of April. Then we had that unbelievable warm spell the beginning of March and I wished I had some potatoes to get started. So I cancelled my order online, telling them they would come later than I wanted them. Then I went to a local produce store (the 320 Store), and bought some organic potatoes. I let them sit on the fridge for a few days to let them start to sprout, and I planted three bins in horse manure mixed with compost, added in some organic fertilizer, and crossed my fingers.

The next day I got an email from the online company saying they were going to mail out their potatoes early as requested, and I would get them the next day. I did get them, and they also sent me five pounds of each potato instead of one, since I was 'such a good customer'.

So, I bought some more wire, got more horse poop, and planted those four types too. But there were too many potatoes for each bin, so I still have a bunch left over.

My kids are teasing me and saying if I just break even this year and only grow as many potatoes as I put in the bins, I should still have lots of potatoes.
And they are about right, too.

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