The last frost for our region is typically no later than April 29th, so it’s time to put out some of the hardier plants. One plant that can sustain the odd frost is the potato.
Potatoes can take up a lot of space in your garden beds and are great at creating back-breaking work to keep them happy and to harvest them. As potatoes grow, earth must be mounded up around the growing plant to stop the sunlight reaching the tubers and turning the edibles green. You probably don’t want to eat the green ones as they contain the toxin solanine. If you want, give it a go, and let us know how it works out for you. If you don’t make it to a computer, I’ll come to your funeral.
Back to mounding. Why bother creating giant, unsightly hills in your garden when you can grow them in bags! In England people started experimenting with growing potatoes in different containers and have now settled on tarp bags. These reusable bag can be found at the dollar store and have a spring hoop running through them which helps keep them erect. Using a cigarette, burn drainage holes in the bottom. The burning melts the tarp and stops the hole from getting larger. Dispose of cigarette as it now has plastic melted to the end. You wouldn’t want to inhale any of the dangerous toxins in the plastic, so just stick to the ones that come with the cigarette.
This year we are doing four bags with two different varieties. The first variety is the Norland red potato which has a shorter growing season and produces small and medium-sized tubers. The other type we are trying is the Yukon Gold, a yellow potato good for baking and chip making. You can get potatoes from Canadian Tire for under $5 but make sure you check each box for mold. Introducing mold and other disease to your garden will ruin your growing season for a lot of your crops.
In your bag, add three or four inches of good soil, free of stones and weeds. Make sure that you have already placed your bags in their final resting place. These bags get quite heavy with all of the soil and disturbing the plants with a move could snap off shoots.
Have a look in your box of potatoes and take out three or four very happy looking specimens. Luckily, we were spoiled for choice. The nursery that produces these ones must give them a spray of anti-depressants before packaging.
Gently place the potatoes, with all growth pointed up, on the soil. Add another three inches of soil, or until the tops of all the growth is covered. At this point, you’ll realize you’ve run out of soil and have to nip out again. Swear a bit, get the soil, and top up the low bag. Pat soil, water, wait. Nothing happens. They’re potatoes. If you want fast growing, you would have planted bamboo (which attracts pandas, hence why bamboo growing isn’t popular in Canada).
As the plants grow, you have to add more soil. Once the plant is 12″ tall, add another 6″ of soil. Repeat until the soil reaches the top of the bag. At this point, just let it go. Eventually the plant will die back and this is a sign that the potatoes are almost ready for harvesting. If you ever want to get an idea of how the potatoes are progressing, feel around the sides of the bag for potatoes. When they are ready to harvest, you just dump the bag out on a tarp and rifle through picking out the potatoes.
In no time you’ll have a nice collection of potatoes ready to be stored for the winter, or cooked up right away. Any small potatoes that aren’t worth cooking can be saved and used for potato wine or you can throw them at the pandas now occupying your backyard bamboo garden.