They can be grown from grocery potatoes, they’re easy and they’re an exciting one for little ones. With a craft knife you can make a pot that allows for little ones to see the potatoes as they grow and for sneaky harvests in the growing season. They self propagate very easily. Only the tubers are edible.
I usually only try to grow things that are hard to get in the shops, are expensive or taste much better home grown.
Potatoes don’t under usual circumstances fall into any of these categories. The taste of potatoes generally depends on the variety grown. However, I adore potatoes. I adore them as a really tasty carbohydrate, and I adore them because they are prime example of life wanting to survive.
When I was 8, I came across some potatoes that were sprouting. Out of curiosity I planted them in the garden. I was amazed when these massive plants grew. I was even more amazed to see flowers develop into fruits that looked like small green tomatoes (don’t eat these – or anything other than the tubers as they are all poisonous). In the autumn, when I pulled each plant up, there were 5-9 fist sized potatoes. Thus, began my love affair with growing my own. I then proceeded to accidentally inoculate my mum’s whole garden with potatoes over the next few years, as I tried to practice crop rotation. I now know that potatoes will grow back from any tiny potatoes left in the soil, even if they are only the size of a bean.
They basically want to grow. We practice hole composting, which is exactly as it sounds. Dig a hole, dump in kitchen vegetable waste and then cover. This means that potato peel often ends up in the garden and if there is a large enough piece of peel it can grow into a potato plant. We think that all our potato plants will produce Maris piper potatoes because those are generally the potatoes that we buy.
So, with the plants popping up in the garden as weeds, only getting groceries in every 3 weeks in the lockdown and these being a fabulous plant for the wee one to see growing, I felt like it was just meant to be.
How to grow
Now, in June, it is generally too late to buy seed potatoes, which are basically small potatoes that are certified virus free. Potatoes are generally planted March to May in the UK. As it’s late, I would suggest growing baby potatoes. Then again, as it is only early June, you may be able to squeeze in some decent sized potatoes into the growing season.
You can grow potatoes from the ones you get in your groceries. The only difference is that they may not be disease resistant. Find a potato that you like, as the resulting tubers will taste the same. Then chit them. This basically means to leave them somewhere light to grow shoots. It can help to stand them in egg boxes to ensure the end with more eyes is on top, though I’ve never bothered.
Potatoes will grow well in almost any soil, which is probably why they are a very popular crop. They are easy to handle and produce wonderful large harvests. This makes them particularly exciting for kids. Bury your chitted potato about half a foot deep between 30-60cm apart. The difference in distance apart depends on how early you want to dig them up. The earlier you intend to harvest the closer you can grow them. I.e. baby potatoes can be 30cm apart.
I like to grow potatoes in pots as it makes the harvesting easier and I like to use specially made pots that allow harvesting whilst the plant is growing. It’s easy to make your own. Take 2 of the same cheap plastic pot. Cut panels all around the sides of one. Nestle the cut pot inside the other and grow your potatoes inside this double pot.
Some people like to make mounds by gathering soil up to the stem or like to add compost to pots as the plant grows. I just add soil if the potatoes appear at the surface to stop them going green. I find this sometimes happens when I water with a strong spray. Watering is especially important when the tubers start to form. Fertilising when the plants are around a foot tall (when mounding up can be done) can help to give a good sized harvest.
How to harvest
The longer you leave the potato plant to grow, the bigger the tubers tend to be. You can wait for the plant to begin to die back in late autumn. To harvest grasp all the stems of one plant and gently pull and wiggle the potatoes out of the ground. With our heavy clay, large tubers and fragile roots, a couple of the tubers are often left in the ground after pulling. I often cut a potato in half accidentally with a trowel or stab them with a fork as I try to dig these out because I sadly lack X-ray vision.
The best way around this is to grow potatoes in pots. At harvest time you can tip the whole tub either onto a sheet of plastic or into another slightly bigger pot. You will then get all your potatoes, except for the teeniest ones. Also, when planting in pots I tend to use compost which gives a crumbly substrate. The clay soil in the ground is very difficult to rake with your fingers to find potatoes.
With the funky panel pot you can harvest baby potatoes through the year. This is a nice crop to have through the summer. The video shows how you can pull the inner pot out and you can see potatoes. Little one was excited to get involved in her first potato harvest. There are also potatoes in the centre, but I usually leave those for a late harvest.
How they taste
I do not need to give you any information on what potatoes taste like. I’m sure you also know that potatoes can taste very different between varieties. The good news is that whatever potato you plant will produce potatoes that taste like those as they produce clones. If you’re going to go to the effort of planting potatoes, you may as well plant the tastiest ones you can find, or unusual tasting ones.
Potatoes are a member of the nightshade family as are tomatoes and aubergines. It’s worth repeating that all the parts of the plant that are not the tubers are poisonous.