Even though enthusiasm for gardening has reached an all time high in this country, most of us still don’t grow all of our vegetables. And even the most avid kitchen gardener doesn’t grow things like potatoes. They’re so accessible in the grocery store and farmer’s market and I think the perception is that it takes a large field to grow them.
But you’d be surprised how little room they require and a home grown potato is much more flavorful than one purchased at a store.
Just as the grass begins to turn green in the spring, around March or April in my zone 7 garden, is an excellent time to put out seed potatoes. You can purchase seed potatoes at your local farmer’s co-op and many online sources such as Burpee or Johnny’s Selected Seeds offer them as well. You can plant potatoes that you’ve purchased at the grocery store, but they are highly susceptible to disease and may not sprout. For the best results always purchase certified seed potatoes that have 3 to four "eyes." And for continuous harvest over the summer select early, mid and late season varieties.
I don’t have a lot of room in my vegetable garden so I grow potatoes in half-bushel baskets placed along my picket fence. The area gets plenty of sunshine and I can amend the soil in the baskets to suit the potatoes perfectly without a lot of extra work.
If you want to try your hand at growing potatoes in half-bushel baskets start by preparing your potatoes. You can plant small whole potatoes or you can cut up larger ones into pieces. Each piece should have at least 1 to 3 eyes. Allow the cut pieces to dry over night to prevent rotting once they are planted. You can also buy these pieces, they are known as potato "sets."
Once the potato sets are ready select an area that receives full sun and is easily accessible to water. Loosen the soil in the area with a gardener’s fork or shovel. Knock the bottom out of the basket and nestle it into the soil.
Next take a mixture of half soil and half compost and put a little in the bottom of your bushel basket. Place the potato seeds or sets 10 to 12 inches apart. You should be able to fit two or three in each basket. Cover them with about 2 to 3 inches of the soil mix.
Consistent moisture is important in the development of the potatoes. You will also need to add more soil over the course of the season as the tubers mature and begin to grow above the soil line. This will prevent sun scorch.
Once planted, a potato vine will emerge in no time through the soil, spill over the baskets and bloom. Early varieties are ready for harvest as soon as the tubers are large enough to eat. Mid-season potatoes can be harvested mid-summer after the vines die back and late varieties are ready when temperatures cool in the fall.
Of course it’ll take farmers several days to harvest their bounty of potatoes, but with my method it only takes a few minutes.