In honor of St Patrick’s day, I present the potatoes! I come from Scotch-Irish Protestants, though, so I’m skipping the green-wearing Catholicism references of the holiday, and just celebrating the all-mighty carbohydrate.
After our success with potato growing last summer, it’s fair to say we have been anxiously awaiting our return to potato farming. I bought four pounds of regular potatoes at Black Lake Organic ($1/lb) – divided equally among Cal Reds, All Blues, and Yukon Golds. All of these varieties are supposed to make superior potato salad, which is sacred in our house, but I believe they will also be good roasted, boiled, grilled, ka-bob’d, in tacos, on pizzas, broiled, baked and mashed. (Do I sound like, super Irish talking about my potatoes like this?)
I proudly brought home my bag of potatoes, and Krista sent me back for fingerling seed potatoes (i bought a pound. cost: $2/lb because they are special). The fingerlings claim to be french fingerling potatoes and if that isn’t fancy for a potato, I don’t know what is.
Last year, you may remember we grew our potatoes in stacks of tires, which was quite convenient and felt good, like, “hey, we’re reusing actual garbage! and growing food out of it!” And the black tires hold heat well, to keep your taters toasty if you plant out when it’s freezing. Just stack another tire & add more dirt as the potatoes grow, forcing them up. As they grow up, they sent out more horizontal roots and those are the roots that make the potatoes. People seem interested in potato tire stacks, and I field questions about it all the time. Gardeners have been growing potatoes in tire stacks for decades. My dad did it. Maybe your dad did it. This year, though, we have high hopes of growing our potatoes in real wooden stacks, something like this. It’s the same concept as the stacking tires, but layers of boards attached to corner posts.
Why the switch? Twofold – one, it is slightly fancier to use these wooden stacks, i think. We like to constantly challenge ourselves beyond our perceived capacity to achieve things. Two, because there is some concern about leaching of tar, automotive or petroleum chemicals from the tires into the soil and into the potatoes. There has been limited research done on this issue, and the little science I have seen makes me comfortable growing in tires. I have read that tires are chemically stable, and the Earthship people build houses out of them, and have their own research and collected scientific studies on the matter here, if you care to read about it. I would not discourage anyone from growing in tire stacks. I happily ate those delicious potatoes for months! At the same time, I agree that there is perhaps a little irony in going out of your way to buy organic seed, organic dirt, and use organic pest management, but growing in a non-organic container. So I agreed to try untreated wood at my wife’s request. You might notice that the issue of “aesthetics” does not enter this debate at all. I consider it a non-issue. Sprouting green stuff coming out of a tire is ADORABLE. Tire stacks are not ugly.
Regardless – whether you use a tire stack or a wooden bin or a burlap bag or a trash can or the conventional “mound” method to grow potatoes, your result will be better than conventional potatoes available at the grocery store. My advice is to just do what feels right, what you’re capable of, and what you can afford. Potatoes are easy and rewarding to grow. I would recommend them to anyone with 2×2 feet of space, and encourage anyone with more space to plant a lot of potatoes.