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Growing potatoes

Potatoes growing in their own bed
Potato plants growing under mulch using the no-dig method

 

Potatoes growing in tyres

Potato plants growing in old car tyres

These vegetables are so easy to grow and taste great. You'll never go back to potatoes from the green grocer or supermarket once you've tasted your own.

You can grow potatoes in so many ways. Dig a hole in your vegetable patch and pop in a potato. Or bury them under a thick layer of mulch, manure, blood and bone, and compost. Or you could always throw all of this good stuff and some spuds into a tyre and watch them grow.

When we were growing up there was only two types of potatoes you could buy, washed and brushed. But now vegetable gardeners have so many options to choose from. Different potato types are used in a variety of cooking methods - boiling, frying, roasting and mashing. If you get the spud and cooking method working in tandem you're onto a winning combination in the kitchen.

Growing conditions

  • In subtropical Queensland we get our best results planting potato tubers out in either late summer or early spring. Our climate is too humid for a summer season. But in cool and temperate climates summer is probably your best bet. We've grown potatoes in winter, but with mixed results.

  • Potatoes adore a heavily manured rich soil.

  • They love sunny well drained beds.

  • Potatoes are from the same family as tomatoes and eggplants. So to avoid soil disease and pests you shouldn't plant either of these in the same bed for a number of years. This can make things difficult unless you've got a huge backyard which can accommodate an ever extending vegetable garden.

  • To get around crop rotation problems we've event tried growing our potatoes in old car tyres. We filled them with the usual good stuff and quality potting mix. In theory as the plants grow you throw another car tyre on and fill it up more. Here's an example:

  • Our tyre experiment really didn't work out as well as we'd hoped. A lot of water got caught in the tyre and couldn't drain. The soil went sour, creating soil diseases which killed the potatoes. If you want to try growing potatoes in tyres we'd recommend drilling drainage holes into the tyre walls. Some gardeners believe the materials in rubber tyres can leach out into the soil (and the potatoes). If you've got any health concerns about this issue, you should avoid doing it. If you've seen any research into this issue please let us know, as we'd also like to find out more.

  • We're fast running out of space on where to plant our potatoes as the potato patch consumes new sections of the backyard. If you're like us you love tomatoes and won't give up any precious space from your tomato bed. Anyway, it's also a delicate balance if you decide to grow spuds in the same bed. Tomatoes and potatoes generally hate each other, they're bad companions, stunting each other's growth. There is no simple solution. The most interesting story (or is it an urban/ garden myth!) we've heard is grafting your tomatoes onto potato root stock. But from recent emails from visitors to this site and this link (scroll to the last post on the page), the grafted potato and tomato theory sounds like a dud - but if you've had success let us know.

Garden care

  • You can technically grow potatoes from a seed, but it takes forever and you generally get poor results.

  • Instead make sure you buy certified seed potatoes. These should be disease free. Potatoes you buy from the green grocer could add disease to your soil.

  • We've grown a number of potato varieties - Sebago, Kiefler, King Edward and Pink Eye; all tasting great and with generally good results.

  • Growing potatoes is easy under straw or even sugar cane mulch. In the past we've covered the grass with thick layers of newspaper. These help kill the grass and any weeds. Make sure you water them though so they don't blow around whilst you're working. Then you place your spuds in rows on the newspapers. My rows were 60cm (2 feet) apart. And each spud was placed about 30cm (1 foot) from each other. If you can try to keep the "eyes" facing up. And then its time to get dirty. Start dumping a heap of mulch all over your spuds. A good organic mulch like sugar cane trash or straw will do nicely. Avoid hay as it still has seeds. You'll need a very thick layer of mulch. Aim for 60cm (2 feet) at least as over time this will decompose. A thick layer is needed to keep the potatoes away from the sun's light. Then its time to mix in all the good stuff: old manures, blood and bone, compost. Have a field day as potatoes adore this lovely organic mix. Then top it off with some more mulch or sawdust to again keep out the light. Its time to get out your hose and saturate your mountain of manure and mulch. Water the whole area continuously for at least 5 minutes.

  • In about 3 weeks you should get your first sign of a spud. The foliage will start creeping out of the mulch and within a couple more weeks they should all be poking up their little heads. Remember to regularly water your potatoes as they really do need a lot of water to grow those succulent tubers. You'll need to keep piling mulch up against the main stem of each potato plant. This encourages the plant to grow taller, which means more potatoes under the mulch. You can use the same principle growing potatoes in soil. Instead of mulch hill the plants up with more dirt.

  • Don't forget to feed them regularly with liquid manure.

  • Keep an eye out for bugs on your potato leaves. In the past we've had small infestations of bugs which we inadvertently identified as lady beetles. But they weren't. Instead they were bean bugs which stripped the foliage off my spuds. We eventually got on top of them using the forefinger and thumb method (squish!), but it's a reminder on how important it is to identify a problem before it becomes significant and dealing with it immediately.

Harvest time

  • We harvest our spuds a couple of weeks after the flowers had set their poisonous fruit and the foliage died back. This can be anywhere between 3-5 months after you first plant the tubers.

  • Wait until at least the bottom leaves have turned yellow, or after half the bush has died. Then its time to go mad, rip out all the plants and pull aside your mulch and harvest potato after potato after potato. The mulch has kept your potatoes all clean and the bed is full of organic matter and is incredibly healthy.

  • After our potatoes we usually grow an extra crop like sweet corn, watermelons and pumpkins in the same bed.

Last updated 13 December, 2008

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