Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

Eye Spy: Ruminations on Growing Potatoes

Monday, February 06, 2012

So I've been thinking alot about potatoes because this will be the first year that I'm going to try my hand at growing them.  Since I only have 2 raised beds and limited space, I need to come up with another location for them and my first thought was to use some of the myriad of abandoned tires in the neighborhood.  At least they'd be put to some good, right?

But then I started doing some research and discovered that using tires isn't such a good idea.  I'm not as concerned about the chemicals leeching into the potatoes because the tires will be well worn, but I AM concerned about the spaces within the tire harboring insects and diseases.  Apparently, that can happen.  Not to mention I don't want our cute little farm to look like a hillbilly haven.

So...more research and more research and I found out some VERY interesting things that I'd like to share with you, my dear reader, about growing potatoes.  That is, if you're still here.  Boy, you must be as fascinated with potatoes as I am.  *giggle*

First of all, there are over 100 varieties of potatoes that you can grow but how you choose to grow them is extremely important.  Early varieties, like Yukon Golds (my favorite) do much better in a bed rather than in a vertical situation like the tires mentioned above.  So, when deciding to plant or ordering planting potatoes, make sure you know whether they are early or late season.

I've found 6 ways to plant potatoes, and I'm sure there are even more than that if you're creative.  Here's the 6:

1. Plant them in a traditional garden bed.  Potatoes like rich fertile soil, so make sure you mix at least 1 part compost to 2 parts soil.  Dig straight, shallow trenches 2 to 3 apart.  Plant the seed potatoes 12 inches apart and cover with 3 inches of soil.  When the plants get to about a foot tall, start mounding the leftover soil on top to cover the greenery until only about 4 inches in showing.  Repeat as needed.  This is probably the simplest method and the easiest for large-scale potato growing. 

2. Plant on bare ground and cover with straw instead of dirt.  Plant as above, but cover with 3 to 4 inches of straw rather than dirt.  As the plant grows, add more straw.  The straw will conserve moisture in the soil and discourage weeds.  My grandfather used this method very successfully in his garden and the nice thing about it is that there's no digging to harvest the potatoes!  The cons?  Be careful about mice setting up household in the straw.

3.  Plant in a raised bed.  Plant the same as in a traditional garden bed.  This is a great way to garden in general if you have poor soil in your area.  The negatives are the cost of creating and filling the beds, if you don't already have them.

4.  Plant in a bag.  I had never heard of this method before until I started researching.  Apparently some folks have had wild success with just taking 3/4 empty compost bags, rolling down the lips, and planting their seed potatoes in there.  As the plant grows, roll up the bag a little more and add more dirt to cover 1/2 to 3/4 of the plant.  Repeat until the bag is full.  Harvest is simple because you just dump the bag out.  The nice thing about this method is that you can do it anywhere in your yard and you can move them around if you need to.   Don't try and use trash bags - they cause the dirt to heat up too quickly and will stunt the potato plant's growth.  You can buy specially designed grow bags, but they're expensive.  The ones I saw online were about $12.95, but they will last several growing seasons.

5.  Plant in a wood box.  Kind of similar to the raised bed idea, but in a smaller, more vertical way.  Generally, these are a 2' x 2' boxes like the one shown to the right. Start with the bottom layer and screw 4' stakes in the corners.  As the plant grows, add another layer to the box and more dirt (or straw) until you reach the top of the box.  Harvest is fairly easy - just remove the box layers and spread out the dirt (or straw).  Claims are that you can grow 100 lbs of potatoes with this method, but I couldn't find anyone that had that kind of success with it.    By the way, this is a great way to use up old pallets.

6. Plant in a wire cylinder.  Same idea as a wooden box, only the growing space is created by creating an 18" tube out of hardware cloth with 1/4" mesh.  The height should be about 24 to 36" tall.  As with the other methods, add more dirt as the plant grow. I would think this would be kind of a mess, as the dirt will fall through the mesh and getting the mesh out of there at harvest might be slightly difficult.

My plan is to build some potato bins out of some scrap pallets that we have lying around.  There's a great step-by-step tutorial here how to build one.  Just remember not to use treated lumber, but that goes for anywhere in your garden.

The bad thing is that I already ordered Yukon Golds, so I guess I'll also end up planting some in one of my beds somewhere.   I'm looking now for some late varieties like Yellow Fin or Binjte, as they will do better in a vertical growing situation.

Anybody growing potatoes out there?  If you have any tips on how to get large harvests, or have a creative method you'd like to share, I'd love to hear about it!

Find out what other like-minded folks are doin' over at this week's Homestead Barn Hop.


  1. I grow potatoes. Last year I put in 15 pounds of seed potatoes. I pulled out over 220 pounds of potatoes in October. Most were Kennebec, along with some Yukon Gold and some blue variety. All of them were (and still are) good.

    I live in Colorado. It is very dry here. For the life of me, I can't understand why anyone here would plant in raised beds, but a lot of people do. It just means more water....which is more money. When I plant potatoes, I dig a ditch about a foot deep. The first thing I plant is a soaker hose. Then I add the potato sets (properly prepared), about a foot apart. Because of the soaker hoses, my rows curve at the ends, so that it's really one long 'snake' of a row. Anyway, potato sets, about a foot apart, covered with abotu 3-4 inches of soil and watered. Once the plants are up, I cover with a little more soil and a little more soil until they are in shallow ditches - that way, when it rains the water runs into those ditches and goes to the plants. Also, when we get done adding back soil around them, we finish with a heavy layer of mulch - probably about 3-5 inches, to help hold in the moisture.

    Our soil is sandy and a little alkaline, but we add a lot to it. the mulch is shredded pine trees, which help to balance the pH, plus we add composted chicken manure, rotted straw, alpaca and rabbit manure and composted horse manure. With all that, our soil is really nice and grows a lovely garden.

    Hope that helps!
    -Laura at TenThingsFarm

  2. Wow, Laura! Thanks for stopping by and leaving that great comment. 220 pounds of potatoes is an incredible yield! I really don't have a choice with the raised beds - I should probably talk about this in a posting, but the "farm" is the lot behind our house and there used to be a house on it. We knocked it down and everything was shoved into the basement and covered over with dirt, which was compacted by the heavy equipment. Terrible clay-bound soil that will barely grow grass. It would take some doing to get it to a state that would support a garden.

    Just curious....how long have you been successfully able to store potatoes once you harvest them?

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. The problem with Yukon golds is that they don't taste all that good.

  4. Very informative post from one gardener to another!


  5. Thanks, Clint! BTW, love your blog. I've been reading it for about a month or so. You've got all kinds of useful stuff on there. I'll make sure to leave you a comment next time I stop by.

  6. Dear Cranky Puppy,
    We cure the potatoes when we take them out of the soil - put them somewhere (under our deck), throw something over them to block sun but let them breathe (burlap), and let them dry out some for a couple weeks. Then we put them in the root cellar, and they don't try to sprout until mid-May. In our basement they sprout much more quickly, so I just bring in a bag of taters at a time. :)

    Hope that helps!
    -Laura at TenThingsFarm

    PS - We have been amending our soil forever - I understand!

  7. Great idea! I am trying potatos for the first time this year and I was thinking about planting them in old muck buckets.

  8. Allison: I was considering that as well. Just make sure you drill some holes in the bottom for drainage. Thanks for stopping by!


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