Garden Spotlight: Planting Potatoes


Front and center, from 2018: two months after planting, the plants reached full size.
After the plants flower, I finger around them in search of new potatoes, taking care not to disturb the plants. Pulling out the treasures I find, I scrape the dirt back in place and the other potatoes keep growing.

Potatoes are among my favorites to grow. The plants grow large and beautiful. They usually are not bothered by bugs or worms. The first potatoes can be harvested by midsummer. New potatoes have a freshness you can only know when you’ve had them. And the last of the spuds store for many weeks—usually into December—simply by placing them in the basement.

Because potatoes grow in the soil, the ground is more important for these plants than for many. Potatoes benefit from lighter, looser soil. My dad always said they did well where I grew up, in West Michigan, because the soil was on the sandy side.

In Indianapolis, the soil in my garden is the opposite of sandy. It leans toward the clayish side. The first year I grew potatoes, I learned the hard truth of the hard earth: all of my potatoes were small. My spuds were duds.

I am working on my soil, rototilling leaves into the garden every autumn. In my fourth year, the organic material has made the soil lighter and healthier, but it will take several years to dramatically alter the ground. Because I love growing my own potatoes, I don’t want to wait. Last year, I tried to give them a boost. It helped.

I dedicated my compost to the potatoes. I placed each seed potato on top of a pile of compost. Compost is arier. Softer. This allowed the spuds to sprout more easily.

While the potatoes that grew to the sides of the plant still grew into harder soil, overall they did better. I saw an increase in both the size and the yield. They didn’t do as well as my Michigan gardens, but they were better than in 2017.

What follows, in photos, is how on April 9 I planted the first of this year’s potatoes. So that they don’t all come at once, I’ll plant more later.

Our leaves and kitchen scraps go from the bin at left into the composter. Three times a year, the stuff decomposes enough for me to use in the garden.
Top right: I place the tarp under my composter, spilling the contents onto it. The tarp drags easily from backyard to front.
Center: I dug the row a bit deeper than usual, to accomodate a layer of compost.

Potatoes act as seeds. Growth stems from the eyes (circled). Each section of potato needs to have at least one eye or, ahem, it can’t see its way to growing.
I shoveled the compost into the trench so that it was a few inches deep, then placed the seed potatoes 12-15 inches apart.
I barely covered the potatoes. As they sprout and grow, I will continually mound the leftover dirt, which is to the left of the row, to keep growing potatoes from popping above the soil. By not dumping all of the soil on top of the seeds, I hope to keep the ground from compacting too much and getting too hard.

2 thoughts on “Garden Spotlight: Planting Potatoes

  1. Hi there,

    First of all, I wish you luck with your potatoes! I’m actually a member of the Eilers family too – your grandfather Louis and my great-grandfather Leo were brothers. (You and I are second cousins, once removed.) I’m writing to ask you if you could please send me an email to the address I entered because I have some family history questions that I’m hoping you can help me with.

    I’ve read many of your blog posts and your story is really something! I applaud you for sharing it. 🙂

    Looking forward to speaking with you more through email.

    Jake Messinger
    Muskegon, MI

    Like

    1. Hey, Jake~

      I’m so glad you wrote . . . cousin! (Thankfully, none of yesterday’s West Michigan snow accompanied your message.)

      Thanks for reading and for your kind words. I’ll be curious to find out how you found me.

      I’ll be sending you an email right after I send this.

      Peace,
      Greg

      Like

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