My first-ever crop of homegrown potatoes may have become someone’s magic mushrooms.
I grew them many summers ago in the backyard of a house rented while I was in college. To make a garden I turned over hard Ohio clay using old splintering garden implements, barely able to break the clods into particles resembling dirt.
The potatoes I planted grew nicely all summer long. I cut the tops down when it was time but when I dug up my harvest what I found barely resembled potatoes. They were tiny shriveled bits of spud mockery. They must have grown only slightly toward potato size before curling in on themselves in a remarkable imitation of exotic dried mushrooms.
After they sat on my back porch for a few days in the sun, taunting me, I thought I’d take them to show my father. He grew up on a farm. Surely he could tell me what had gone wrong. Or at least get a good chuckle at my gardening abilities.
I put a handful of that “harvest” in a plastic baggie on the passenger seat of my car. On the way to my parent’s house I did a few errands. When I got back to the parking lot I discovered that my car had been broken into. Strangely the thieves had taken nothing.
But by the time I got to my parent’s house I realized the thieves had stolen something after all. The baggie was gone. Perhaps my potatoes-gone-wrong provided someone with an unexpected trip. Surely less than a wild ride. Maybe instead of getting high they found themselves longing for colcannon, pierogis, and knishes.
This year I’m planting potatoes again. I read a wonderful post about growing potatoes in containers last fall at Living the Frugal Life. Here’s our attempt, step-by-step, with some modifications.
Container Grown Potatoes
First, obtain food grade buckets. The bakery department at the grocery store in town saved them for us. They get frosting and mixes in these buckets (the ingredient list still on the label is enough to horrify even a die-hard processed food eater). I’m not a fan of growing or storing in plastic, but I’m comforted to realize that at least we’re repurposing these containers.
Drill drainage holes in the side or bottom of each bucket. As an experiment, I drilled 6 to 8 holes in some and fewer in others.
Shovel clean stone in a thin layer on the bottom of the bucket for additional drainage. You may not find that necessary but we usually have a very wet spring here in Northern Ohio.
I understand potatoes like to grow in sandy, loamy soil. That’s something we don’t have. And because I think of dirt as full of life, I’m not about to trot off to buy sterilzed potting soil. So I’m planting these potatoes in what we have in plentiful supply around here—well rotted cow manure. It may be too rich or unbalanced in some important way, but for these potatoes, it’s what’s for dinner.
I fill each pail about a third to a quarter full, then tuck a seed potato in each bucket down the requisite three inches. Being me, I offer up encouragement to each potato as it’s patted into the soil.
Turns out 2 lbs of seed potatoes aren’t enough to fill 22 five gallon pails. So I rummage through the pantry and find a few potatoes that seem to be sprouting. They now have the chance to create new descendants rather than becoming dinner.
Then I soak up water from the pond to thoroughly dampen each bucket, something I’ll be doing every day it doesn’t rain around here.
Now if I understand potato-growing correctly, as root nodules sprout the plant needs to be covered by additional layers of dirt. This stimulates more root growth, resulting in more potatoes. It also protects growing potatoes from the sun, which can make them inedible. So I’ll continue adding loose soil, nearly reburying the growing plant each time. Eventually the bucket will be topped off with dirt, the plant will be growing right out of the top and the bucket will be brimming with potatoes. I think I’ll keep encouraging my potato plants too. I’ve read estimates of 10 to 25 pounds of potatoes per pound of seed potatoes.
Commercially grown potatoes are listed by the Environmental Working Group as one of the top foods to avoid unless purchased organically due to pesticide residues. It certainly makes sense to grow our own. Plus, it’s hard to find organic potatoes around here. I hope to find more space in my ever-growing gardens for other varieties of potatoes, planted for later harvest. But for now, I’m happy to see those pails in the sun behind a little barn, like merry tubers-in-waiting.