To illustrate how far removed from how food is grown we have become, most people know that potatoes grow underground but did you know that the plant part grows above ground?
Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite books called “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. She had a friend call who was asking what about what was growing in the garden so far that year. She told her friend that the potatoes were up.
“Wait, what? The potatoes are up? I thought they grew down…”
This makes me giggle.
But there was a time when I had no idea how a potato plant grew either. The more involved we become with how our food is grown and produced, the better off we will be.
Learning how things grow is good. Having the experience and skill to grow them ourselves (if possible) is better.
Potatoes, I am afraid, have gotten a bad rap lately.
I’d like to restore them to their rightful place of a staple food that has sustained generations of people for thousands of years.
Some of the food principles that I try to adhere to are to eat food in the form that God created it in, in the quantities he provides it in, and by the sweat of thy brow (meaning I have to put effort into preparing it).
These principles show that potatoes are a great food for us to eat.
Did you know that there are over 1000 different varieties of potatoes? Most people only eat the Burbank Russet variety in the form of French fries or baked or mashed potatoes. But there are so many more. There are purple ones, yellow ones, waxy ones, tiny fingerling ones, big baking ones, ones with pink spots inside, and many more.
How to Grow Potatoes
The problem with all of these varieties is that they can be hard to find. Because potatoes grow from an actual potato, instead of seed, if you can find unique varieties it often costs a lot to ship them to you.
But it is well worth the effort.
And now is the time of year to plant potatoes!
If you look on my free gardening cheat sheet, potatoes get planted around St. Patrick’s Day.
Here are some places where you can find some great seed potatoes to purchase:
- Zamzows or D & B Supply stores (if you live in Idaho)
- Your own local country or gardening supply store in the springtime (if you are lucky)
- Seed Savers Exchange
- Johnny’s Seeds
- Mary’s Heirloom Seeds
To plant, dig a hole about 6 inches deep. Drop the seed potato into the hole. Cover with soil and water well. In about a week or two, you will begin to see green leaves begin to poke up where you planted the potato. When these grow to be about 6-8 inches, you can “hill them up” if you want to. Some people believe this produces more potatoes and/or protects them from sunlight damage. It’s not necessary though if you don’t want to do it.
To hill up, shovel soil from the paths and pile it on top of and around the potato plant until there is a mound of dirt around the plant.
Then all you do is wait until the plant grows. Most potato plants will flower at least a little bit but some won’t at all.
When the plant begins to turn brown and fall over, it is time to dig up the potatoes. They will be directly underneath the plant for the most part but dig carefully in case you cut one with the shovel.
If your soil is soft enough (from using a mulch covering) you may be able to dig with your hands to reduce damaging the potatoes. Alternatively, you could try a pitchfork to lift and loosen the soil.
It is best to let them dry out on a tarp, table, newspaper or an old sheet for a few days to remove moisture and let the skins harden. I usually put them in a cardboard box but only in a thin layer and then leave it outside in a dry, shady spot for a few days or in my garage to dry. Do not remove the soil until you are ready to eat them. They spoil faster once they are washed.
After they have dried out, place them in a cardboard box, plastic basket, or paper bag and place in a cool, dry spot. I store mine in my garage but a room in your basement would be a great spot too. Do not place onions close to them. Even though onions and potatoes go well together in cooking, they do NOT go well together in storage.
Depending on the variety, they should store well for many months. I often have some still going strong in the early months of spring.
I hope this has encouraged you to try your hand at growing some potatoes in your garden.
They are a beautiful plant and are delicious to boot!
Happy potato planting!