Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How I'm Growing Months of Potatoes for $3.99

I hope every American who possibly can 
will grow a victory garden this year. 
We found out last year that even the small gardens helped.
The total harvest from victory gardens was tremendous. 
It made the difference between scarcity and abundance. 

A few weeks ago, my local grocery store had 15 pounds of potatoes on sale for $3.99. You better believe a bag of those taters came home with me. But even after taking a meal to a couple who just had a baby and throwing potatoes in every soup pot I've made, the suckers were still sprouting faster than I could use them.

Perfect! I love it.

Did you know that when your potatoes- even normal ones, from the grocery store- begin to go wonky, you can thickly peel or slice them and use them as seed?

You can. You can grow months worth of potatoes from a $3.99 bag from the store. Really.

Let's be real: times are getting tough. And they're going to get tougher. This year I feel... I don't know... weighty conviction, almost, to plant all I can, put up all I can, and get ready to be generous. This would be loads easier if I had a farm, or even some land, but right now we're in a two bedroom house with an average size back yard and a landlord who doesn't want us to put in raised beds. In other words, we're resigned to using flower beds for now. Point? If I can do this, maybe you can, too. 

We can totally do this.

Okay. First, I'm going to take my sprouting potato and I'm going to cut it into chunks with at least two "eyes", or two buds that will start the growth of a new potato plant, on each piece. Some folks say not to do more than one or two, since the resulting vines could make a tangled mess and choke each other as they compete for nutrients. And then other people plant whole potatoes and are happy with that. I say at least two eyes is good, but I don't freak if there's more.

Some gardeners get really technical with this cutting and talk about invisible stems and tuber size and humidity and blah blah. Not me. I grab a knife and slice like a crazy person in a horror movie. My only rule? Cut big chunks about the size of my thumb, give or take. It's worked in the past.

Yesterday as I was cutting these, there were some potatoes that were mostly sprouting on one side. I simply peeled the other side and we ate them in soup last night. Once I was done slicing my sprouted taters, here's what I had:

Oh yeah. 

Since I was at the end of the sack of potatoes, I put my sprouting chunks- cut side up- on a paper lunch bag, and then put the paper bag on top of the original plastic potato sack. Then I moved it to an open, airy corner of the kitchen and let the chunks hang out for at least 24 hours. This process is called chitting- the cutting and hanging out period in a potato's life before it is planted and begins to produce.

I could draw so many parallels to that and real life but I won't today. Moving on...

(Again, depending on who you ask, there's a correct length of time to chit potatoes. The lady who runs our downtown community garden swears by cutting potatoes and planting them that instant. I watched in amazement last year as she cut a potato in half and then dropped each piece into the soil right then. And you know what? They got a decent potato crop! I like to err on the side of drying my potato pieces at least a day, though.)

After a day or two, my cut potato chunks have dried enough to plant. Yes, I know it's crazy early to be planting potatoes, but I live in Texas. It was 67 degrees yesterday. For the rest of the known world, you'll want to wait until it's dry and warm, about a week after the last frost.

And into the ground they go! You'll notice all the organic material in my soil there. I am a HUGE proponent of the Back to Eden style of gardening, and I have heavily mulched these beds the past two years. I can sink a spade about 10 inches down into the soil and it's rich and alive and gorgeous. In fact, let me show you. Here's a back bed that was NOT mulched Back to Eden style. (Note how sandy the soil is. I can barely dig into it with a shovel, it's such hard ground.)

And here's the "flower"bed with that gorgeous soil, now planted with potatoes, mulched in wood chips and spent tomato vines and Maggie's head:

World of difference!

Anyway. I'll continue planting potatoes through March, but I'm happy to have these in the ground now. Several months worth of potatoes from a $3.99 bag at the store that we also ate from? Yes please!

It's time for a victory garden revival.


rachel said...

Yes, yes, yes. I love this. My back garden is tiny (in the UK we tend to not have a lot of space) so I am going to be focusing on square foot gardening and containers this year. Potatoes are on my list. One year I had planted a few, and was then laid up with a health crisis (literally, I had to lie still for 2+weeks) and my Mum volunteered to pull them up. She was amazed at the amount of potatoes I got for the few I planted and basically forgot about. Definitely will be planting potatoes this year. I'm still planning what else. Trying to focus on stuff I actually eat/can preserve...
Happy gardening! It's still frosty here and I'm impatient to start! ;)

Brin said...

Rachel- love it! Potatoes do seem to be easy... kind of a plant them and almost forget them kind of a veg. Best of luck this spring! I'm itching it get it all rolling, too. :)

Love from Texas!

Terri Steffes said...

I love garden potatoes. So different from store bought. I didn't realize you could plant them so early!