Even couch potatoes can grow a bumper crop of real potatoes following one of the simple methods below. Make the venture especially interesting by growing different colors and shapes like blue potatoes or fingerlings. Enjoy century old advice from an Illinois farmer and then get serious in choosing a method and location. Spring is on its way. If there is not sufficient rain, water the potatoes regularly whatever method you choose and use dirt or mulch to shield the potatoes from the sun.
“About the first week in February I cut potatoes as for planting, and lay them in a warm place a few days until the cut side is somewhat dried. Then I take a box and put in a layer of dirt one inch deep, a layer of potatoes with the cut side down, then another layer of dirt one inch deep and continue until I have three or four layers of potatoes, keeping them well moistened and in a warm place until planting time, when they will have good sprouts and roots. If there is any danger of frost after they are up, I hoe dirt over them. I tend them well and have potatoes three or four weeks sooner than when I cut them at planting time.” [from an Illinois farmer about 1910]
Purchase seed potatoes instead of using old grocery-store potatoes which were probably treated to prevent them from sprouting easily. Even if they have sprouts, they won’t produce well. In hot climates, choose potatoes with an early or mid-season maturing date and shoot for planting them as soon as possible after the last expected frost date.
When cutting them into pieces, leave at least two eyes (baby sprouts) on each piece and get them ready 1-2 days ahead of your planned planting date so the cut surface dries before planting.
Mix rotted manure or organic compost in the bottom of each trench before putting in the potatoes. Space them about a foot apart and 2 to 4 inches deep. Place them with the eye up.
Before the potato plants start blooming and when about 6 inches tall, hoe loose dirt around them covering the stems of the potato plants. Hilling them, as this procedure is called, helps maintain moisture, supports the plants, and keeps the sun from turning the potatoes green. It may be necessary to pull more dirt onto the potatoes a few times as they grow.
New, or baby, potatoes can be “grappled” [Southern word] in about 10 weeks, and when the plants die back all the potatoes should be harvested. Choose a dry day and take care not to cut or puncture the potatoes while digging them out of the ground. Although we did when I was a child, it is not recommended that the potatoes be washed prior to storing them. Brush off the dirt and put them away.
Method #2. IF your soil is loose and rich, or if you take the time to turn in compost to enrich it, the seed potatoes can be placed on top of the soil and leaf or pine straw mulch heaped on top of them instead of trenching and hilling them. Results will probably be disappointing if the soil underneath the seed potatoes is nutritionally poor. Straw or hay can be used for the mulch but may introduce weeds into the potato bed.
Method #3. Prepare seed potatoes as for the previous methods. Dig a shallow trench (3 to 4 inches), press the prepared seed potatoes into the loose soil a half inch deep. Instead of filling in the trench with garden soil, cover it with straw. As the plants start to grow add additional hay or other mulch. The benefit of methods 2 and 3 is that the new potatoes will form in the mulch and require little effort in harvesting.
If these methods seem like more work than you care to put into growing spuds, try one of these methods:
Place large bags of potting soil flat on the ground, puncture the bag a couple of times on the bottom for drainage, and cut holes in top of the bag, and press the prepared seed potatoes into the loose soil with the eye up so the plant will grow out through the holes. When ready to harvest, simply cut the bag open and shake out the contents, potatoes and all. After you do this a couple of years then try method #3 placing the seed potatoes on top of the emptied soil.
Fill a container half full of straw, place the potatoes on it, eye side up, and finish filling with straw. Make sure the container has a hole for drainage. Containers can be just about anything – cloth shopping/tote bags, laundry baskets, flower pots, trash bags with drainage holes, burlap bags, old tires, old barrels with holes cut in them for the plants to grow through (make sure they have not held toxic contents), old baskets, trash cans, 5-gallon buckets, cardboard boxes, raised beds, wire cages, etc. Even paper bags (doubled for durability) can hold potato plants if you place several bags together, side to side, inside a wooden or wire frame so that the plants don’t collapse when the bags give way.
Place rolls or bales of hay in a sunny location, cut out small openings, and insert a prepared seed potato in each hole. Place the seed potatoes so that the eyes are pointed toward the opening. Fill the hole with soil or more hay. When the plants die back, tear open the hay and remove the potatoes.
Cover an area of sunny ground with cardboard, sheet plastic, or layers of newspaper (no colored ink) for a weed barrier. Spread hay over it and place the seed potatoes on top of the hay. Cover them with a generous layer of hay.
Dig a wide shallow pit in the ground. Place hay in the pit and place the seed potatoes on top of it. Cover with more hay adding more as the plants grow.
Whatever method you choose, Mother Nature is going to do the bulk of the work and still reward you with the best tasting potatoes you’ve ever had. Blissful meals, yall.