Potatoes, and an Aside on Going Organic

Some years ago when I was a super lazy composter, I went out to the compost after having ignored it for some time. There was a full size potato plant growing in the pile. I had accidentally started potatoes in my garden. There were mid-sized potatoes all over the place. I love gardening, but I really love it when gardening has been occurring unbeknownst to me.

Perfect for planting.

In January you should start thinking about planting tubers if you want to INTEND on growing potatoes. If it’s not January and you are curious, and you have some space, screw it: go plant some potatoes. Some people have a preference for planting them in fall.

These will be covered with lots of composted soil and straw.

The easiest way to start are by getting seed potatoes. Seed potatoes are small potato tubers, with eyes, that are ready for planting. The “eye” of a potato is the sprout where you see the tuber trying to grow.

You can actually use potatoes that you purchased at the store but get the organic potatoes, because shitty commercial companies spray crap on potatoes to keep them from sprouting. A good place to look is at farmer’s markets. If you are doing this in a serious manner, and not just fucking off, get good starts from a reputable company. They specifically prepare potatoes to avoid common diseases and problems that can arise.

The All Blue potato does well in Tucson.

For small, “new” potatoes, which are generally the size of an egg or so, you can plant the whole damn thing. For large potatoes, cut up into thirds or so, having at least one “eye” for each piece. Let this dry out. Some people add sulfur to cure the wound. I don’t. I just cut up enough that if some don’t survive, it will be just fine.

Well-Mulched Potato

There are several methods of growing potatoes. If you plant directly into the soil, make sure you have amended the soil very well. Include varying layers with different textures, and of course, always have a good layer of mulch around plants to protect the soil from the sun and to keep moisture steady.

The popular tire-growing method.

Some people hill up more compost/soil onto plants as they grow, which encourages more tuber production. You can also simulate this method by creative container planting: using wood boxes, tires, etc. The basic idea here is to create an area of loose, compost-enriched soil for potatoes to develop in. Be creative with the resources you have at hand.

Within a few months you will have new potatoes to harvest, and in double or more that time, full size potatoes. Don’t get crazy-upset if plants die on you, especially if it’s been 3-4 months. Your potatoes are probably ready to dig up. There is a lot more going on underground than apparent. And when potatoes are done, they often just “die”, which is really just them going to sleep.

The burlap bag method.

Water consistently and feed regularly with kelp, compost tea or fish emulsion. Avoid leaning too heavy on the nitrogen, but don’t be as nitrogen-phobic as you would with winter-growing tubers like radishes or beets. Potatoes aren’t that anti-nitrogen. In fact, it is often suggested to plant them with peas and beans-something you would not do with many root crops.

They also like good, rich soil. This is best accomplished with putting a lot of work into the planting site, initially. Lots of compost, and good compost.

An aside on compost and fertilizing:

If you are using store-bought compost, remember that it is often carbon-heavy. It’s sort of a conundrum because some of the “natural” composts can be very low in fertility, and some of the commercial shit is fertile, but loaded with inorganic fertilizers. Just do your best, and think about doing your own compost, which really is the best way to go, especially if you can get hooked up with lots of kitchen scraps.

Good compost is moist, the color of bitter chocolate, not light brown, and not black. Black compost is a sign of anaerobic activity.

Recently I had a friend reluctantly tell me she was still using synthetic fertilizers, but that she was leaning toward getting off of them. Actually a few people have said this to me. I want to make something clear. I am definitely very adamant about the importance of going organic. It’s important for your health, it’s important for the health of our soils. I also understand that it takes time to make these changes. Old habits die hard. And it also takes time to turn soil over to being healthy again. We have done so much to the dirt to render it infertile and dead. But if you ARE going to keep using these products, keep in mind that you ARE effecting the biology of your soil adversely, even if plants immediately respond.

Consider using what are called ionic fertilizers. These are synthetic fertilizers, but very low strength. You see, in nature, it’s rare to find nutrients like nitrogen in such high quantities loose in the water supply or soil. And often, it’s a lethal situation.  The ratio of water to nutrients in ionic fertilizers is much closer to what you find in nature. I also use these sorts of fertilizers on indoor plants that are difficult to grow strictly organically. The brand I use is called Ionic. If you still use Miracle Grow or something like that, consider using it at a MUCH REDUCED strength. No matter what you do, don’t bask in some Catholic Guilt over how you go about this change. I hate that shit almost more than I hate synthetic fertilizers. We are all just trying to get along here in the world. Just do your best, cool?

Harvesting potatoes.

Back to potatoes, um…depending on how you grew them, you will need to take precautions when digging them up. Be careful not to bruise them with whatever digging implement you use. Try using a pitchfork. For large potatoes, cure them outside in the shade for a few days once you dig them up, before you wash them. If you grew a ton of potatoes, leave them in the ground so they don’t go bad, and dig them up as you need them.

I get my seed potatoes from Ronniger Potato Farm.


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