Seed Potatoes

You can buy seed potatoes and many recommend this process. I have never done so. Those who do claim that the potatoes sold in supermarkets are treated with a chemical to inhibit sprouting. It is also said that even though you may buy potatoes that have some eyes on them, and even some that are sprouting, they are still possibly treated … but sprouting anyway. It has also been said that using potatoes that have been treated will slow the growth of the plants and produce less potatoes.

I don’t know. I can’t prove it but I want to test this theory and hopefully I’ll do it this summer (2013). I want to buy some seed potatoes and grow them on in a barrel doing the same with some grocery store bought potatoes and treat both the same throughout the test. I’ll post the results here.

**** I did test this theory this year, 2013, and here is what I found. Now this was not a “scientific” experiment and the actual growing conditions were not scientifically controlled to be exactly the same. I planted three barrels with potatoes I got at the grocery store, and one with seed potatoes. The barrel with the seed potatoes produced a harvest at least three times that of the other barrels. All conditions were basically the same. I used the same soil, a mix of compost and garden soil with some old horse manure I had. I watered them all equally, at the same time, and they were all exposed to sun and rain the same amount. I was surprised by this, although I suppose I should not have been. My advice … purchase seed potatoes or save some of your own from year to year. I’ll never bother with store bought potatoes again. Another possibility may be from farmers markets where the local farmer does not treat the potatoes to slow their eye growth. I will re-write this post at some point in the future. ****

All potatoes will have eyes or sprouts on them although not all will actually show the beginning of their growth. The eye looks like a small root beginning to grow out of the potato. It will be a sand color and as it grows it will turn green as it becomes a leaf. You have probably seen this happen to your potatoes that you have in your home, at some point in time.

Seed potatoes are sold, often as organic, as treatment free so they will readily grow into potato plants. Growers will certify that they have not been treated. Potatoes from your grocer will not say if they have been treated or not. I have to wonder if the high end grocers sell the treated potatoes while the cheaper or discount grocers do not. It would be an added cost so the discount grocers may provide untreated potatoes.

Some also recommend to use the whole potato and select smaller potatoes with only one or two eyes. I cut my potatoes up into pieces that have one or two eyes. I’ll cut these up as small as a golf ball, although I guess they are usually about twice that size, and larger. I’ve never had disastrous results with these small sizes but if I had to make a statement I’d go with the larger size producing better results. So, I’ll recommend keeping the size to about that of two golf balls to one tennis ball size for best results. You can use whole, uncut potatoes if you wish. There is no problem with that. If you do cut the potatoes into pieces with one or two eyes, let them sit out, preferably in the sun, for a couple of days to “heal”. This means to let the cut surface of the potato dry up. It becomes almost leathery. This will reduce the number of your seed potatoes that rot after being planted.

That is it about seed potatoes. Buy them, or use your own to make your seed potatoes.



Growing Potatoes in Barrels

This is the latest in trends when it comes to growing potatoes, but it certainly isn’t new.

I believe the idea stems from simply mounding up soil around the potato plants that you planted in the ground. Growing potatoes evolved into digging shallow trenches and then, as the plants grew, mounding soil up around them. It was an easy transition to growing them in barrels.

The method allows you to save space and get more potatoes from your effort. It is great and I highly recommend it.

Start with a wooden, plastic or metal barrel of your choice. You can use an old whiskey barrel, a wooden planter barrel, a metal or plastic trash can, 55-gallon drum or any other such barrel. The only thing to really consider is that it is worthy of housing something you are going to eat. Consequently you want it to be of food quality, which isĀ  basically any wood, plastic or metal, as long as it is clean, not rusty or had ever contained any material that would not be good to grow food for consumption in. Stay away from barrels that had chemicals in them. Stick with food quality barrels that may have had wine or whiskey in them, or other food commodities.

Personally I like wood but it is hard to find, and can be expensive. I like the idea of making my own, but again, the price of actually putting a barrel together can add up quickly. If you do go this route be certain to use wood that is safe to grow food in. Do not under any circumstances use wood that was pressure treated. The chemicals they treat wood with are probably not going to be good to consume and assume that you will get traces of it in the potatoes you grow. I doubt it would lend much to the flavor of your produce either.

The easiest way to grow potatoes in a barrel is probably utilizing a plastic trash can. They are relatively cheap, can be had for free sometimes, and will stand up to many years of growing potatoes as long as you take basic care of them. If the thought just popped into your head to use whatever old trash can is laying around, go ahead and do so, IF you can be sure that nothing bad was ever stored in it. Sometimes these cans had previous lives storing fertilizers, sometimes chemicals. Be sure it is clean and has no residue that could taint your food. Be safe, rather than sorry. Think about it! Do you want to eat some poison? Probably not.

Wash that barrel out well, make sure it is clean and then go ahead and begin your trek into growing potatoes in barrels. Let’s take a look at your it is done.

Setting up a barrel to grow potatoes is not a big project. Drill enough holes in the bottom to let excess water escape and you are set to get started. Place the barrel up on some patio blocks, cement blocks or something to get it up off the ground. Do this for two reasons, one to keep some air circulation around the barrel and second so roots don’t grow through the holes and into the ground beneath your barrel. This isn’t a mandatory step. If you are going to leave the barrel in the same exact spot you can let those roots go into the ground if you like.

Next, place about six inches of soil or other growing medium in the bottom and then place your seed potatoes into the top of that layer. Water them in and keep your eye on them. As the potatoes sprout and begin to grow you’ll want to put some more soil or growing medium on the top to bury that new growth just to near the top of the green leaves. Keep watching and keep adding more soil to keep the tips of the green growth just above the soil level. Figure on adding soil about once a week. After a while your barrel is going to be full. At this point you are done with your constant chore and can just leave the potatoes to grow on, mature and become ready for harvest. Once the top grown yellows and falls over your potatoes are ready for harvest.

You can dump the barrel over onto the ground, or a tarp or other cloth to keep things clean. Pick out your potatoes and get ready for some good eating.

I used the phrase growing medium above. I have read about people using hay or straw, sand and sawdust. I have not tried this so I can’t vouch for it, but I’m sure it would work. I can’t be certain of how well though. The main thing would of course be to make that bottom layer of soil very rich in nutrients because it is going to be the sole source of nutrients for your plants.

My recommendation either way is to use fresh top quality compost for the bottom six inches and then also for the next six or so inches as you fill in. You can mix up some peat moss, straw etc., as you continue to fill in but that bottom is where the plants are going to get their nourishment and you want it to be good so you get a lot of potatoes.

Another concern is the density or weight of the soil you are using. In my area the soil is clay loam. If I was to just fill a barrel with it I’d have a block on solid clay by the time I got it full. This isn’t really the best consistency to grow anything in. Improve this soil by adding compost or peat moss so that it is light and doesn’t clump as much. My soil isn’t bad, but it can be like a solid hunk of cement at times.

Also pay attention to the rocks in it. Rocky soil will produce odd shaped potatoes. Ideally you want it to be stone free with only the smallest of pebbles allowed in it. Using hay or straw combined with your soil can help you out here to loosen the mix and keep it airy. While filling your barrel up keep your eye on the soil and it’s consistency. If it is like I’m describing my raw earth to be it will hard to keep it evenly moist as well as be loose enough for a potato to mature.



Variety Maturing Comments
Yukon Gold Early to Mid season Large, yellow-fleshed variety. Bake, boil, or mash. Store well.
uperior Mid season Bake, boil, or mash. Potato scab resistant.
Red Pontiac Late maturing Large. Store well, high yield. Easy growing.
Kennebec Late maturing Large. Bake and fry well. Good production. Store well.
Russet Norkotah Late maturing Large. Bake well. Good production.
White Rose Early to Mid season Good producer. Does not store well.
Russet Mid season Large. Good producer. Bake well. Store well.
Norland Early maturing Red skin with white flesh. Boil, fried or mashed. Store well.