Planting Potatoes in Spaces Big and Small

Around here, St. Patrick’s Day means more than just a good ‘ol fashioned Irish celebration (even though Karin is part Irish).  That day is synonymous with potato planting.  Historically, the first day of spring usually falls around St. Paddy’s Day; it’s just a good mark to hit for one of our first rounds of planting for the season.  Any time in the spring, though, is good for planting potatoes. We got ours in on March 31st year.


Potatoes were introduced to Ireland by the British back in the 1600’s as the ideal food source.  Basically, it was a cheap and easy-to-grow food for the poor people of Britain’s first colony.  The plan backfired, though.  By the 1840’s, the potato had helped the Irish become stronger than their British rulers!

Unfortunately, the Great Potato Famine destroyed potato crops across the country soon after.  That famine, though, is credited with boosting plant breeding programs to find disease-resistant varieties and showing us the benefits of crop rotation.  And the potato is still among the easiest vegetables to grow.

Whether you’ve got a large space to work with or your garden consists of a few pots on your balcony, anyone can grow potatoes.


No matter how you plant potatoes, the rewards are pretty great.  One pound of seed potatoes can yield around 10 lbs of new ones!  Find seed potatoes online, from your local farm, farmers markets or garden centers.

Seed potatoTo increase your yield, cut larger seed potatoes into halves or thirds; just be sure each piece has 2 or 3 “eyes” in it.  Those eyes will turn into sprouts for forming new tubers.  Let them sit out for a day or two to harden the cut edge before planting to prevent them rotting in the ground.


In the Ground

The usual way to plant potatoes is to till the ground until it’s nice and loose, place the seed potatoes into the ground and cover with a good amount of soil.  Later, as the plants get larger, continue mounding the soil up around the vine to encourage new growth, which will result in more tubers.  This can be a small space or several acres; the procedure is the same.  Once the plants die back and it’s time to harvest, the soil is loosened (usually with a potato fork or mechanical implement) and the potatoes are dug up.

Potato plants


We choose an alternative to this method.  Rather than tilling the ground, we choose an area that’s already had its soil loosened by a thick layer of straw mulch the previous season.  Then, we simply lay the seed potatoes out on the ground in nice rows and cover them with a deep layer of composted manure and straw from our chicken coops and pig pens.  We’ve got great nutrients built into the straw and a good start for the potatoes.  Once the plants poke their heads through the straw, we mound more up on top.  If the straw seems to be letting in too much light (green potatoes are bad), we can add some compost or sawdust to block it out.  This method, for us, is much easier and leaves the soil below pretty much undisturbed.  Harvesting simply involves pulling back the layers of straw to reveal the potatoes … no digging required!

In Containers

An easy, space-saving (and back saving!) way to grow potatoes is in containers.  This method is also effective for preventing pests that may plague your crop, like voles or grubs.  You can use buckets or barrels or even burlap sacks.

Potato buckets

The size of your containers will determine the size of your harvest. Nancy at gets about a pound per bucket.

Whatever container you use, make sure there’s good drainage at the bottom.  Drill or cut a few holes in the bottom, then add some rocks or broken clay pots so the holes don’t get clogged with soil.  Add about 2” of good soil or compost.  Place a few seed potatoes about 4” to 6” apart; 3 should fit in a 5-gallon bucket.  Layer on about 2” of soil, then water well.

Once you see sprouts push through the soil, keep an eye on them.  When they are about 4” tall, put in more soil, compost, straw or sawdust, leaving the top 1” of the sprout above the soil.  The growing medium doesn’t matter much at this point, so long as it’s thick enough to block sunlight from getting through to the bottom and the new tubers have something to sprout into.  The plants will send out tubers along the buried stem portion.   Repeat this process until the bucket is full of your growing medium, and then let the sprouts grow up and out of the container.

Water your potatoes whenever the soil is dry 1” below the surface.  If you use something other than compost as your growing medium, fertilize with compost or manure tea every few weeks to keep the nutrients coming.

The potato plants will flower when tubers are growing.  Once the plants begin to dry up and die, your potatoes are ready to harvest.  Simply turn the container over and sift through for your lovely potatoes!

Wire Cylinders

Planting in wire cylinders uses the same concept as the containers above; however, it removes the need to pile on the planting medium as the plants grow.

Potato Tower

Use the straw to form a “bowl” and keep layering your potatoes.

Using chicken wire or any wire mesh with spaces around 2”, form a cylinder shape similar to a 55-gallon drum.  Fasten the wire together and use a stake along the open edge for support.  Place a thick layer of straw in a bowl shape in the bottom, add 2” of soil or compost, layer your seed potatoes around the outer edge, then add another 2” of soil.  Repeat this all the way to the top.  Now, your potato plants will sprout out the sides of your cylinder, and across the top.  This method requires a few more seed potatoes than in containers, but reduces the need to check back with the plants to see if they need more soil.  It’s a good option if you don’t want to have to pay attention to the potatoes that often!

Follow the same watering and fertilizing instructions as for containers.  Again, the plants will die back when the potatoes are ready to harvest.  Tip over your cylinder and reap the rewards!

Growing your own potatoes is easy and there are plenty of varieties to choose from.  Pick a couple different ones to try and harvest some as young “new” potatoes and others once they’re fully mature to store for the winter.

Use those summer veggies on the grill

If you’re a CSA customer, you’ve been getting plenty of squashes and tomatoes in your share each week.  Our farm friends that come by the stand have been buying up lots of them, too.  They’re only in season for a little while so take advantage of them while they’re here.

Having a plethora of goodies is wonderful, but some nights it’s just too hot to cook!  Here are a couple of our favorite recipes for using those veggies without having to turn on the oven during the hot summer nights.

Grilled Patty Pan Squash

Grilled Patty Pan Squash

1 medium patty pan squash (do not peel)

Olive oil

Salt and Pepper

Other spices

Cut off the stem end of the squash and lay flat.  Slice the squash 1/4 to 1/2″ thick slices.  You will now have “rounds” of the squash.  Drizzle olive oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper.  We usually add garlic powder, too.  Try it with lemon thyme, rosemary or oregano.

Place squash rounds flat on the grill on medium heat.  Cook until browned on one side, then flip.  Continue cooking until the squash is tender.  The squash will be caramelized for a nice, sweet taste.

One squash serves 2 as a side.

You can also do this with thick slices of large zucchini or yellow squash.  Just don’t overcook … the skin is thinner on those and won’t hold together quite as well.

Grilled Summer Vegetable Tian

Grilled Summer Vegetable Tian

1 medium candy onion

1 tsp minced garlic

1 medium zucchini

1 medium yellow squash

1 medium new potato

1-2 medium tomatoes

1 tsp dried lemon thyme (or english thyme, if you prefer)

garlic salt


1 C shredded Italian cheese

Spray an 8×8″ foil pan with non-stick spray or grease with butter.  Finely dice the onion.  Layer the onion and garlic in the bottom of the pan.

Thinly slice the remaining veggies into evenly sized pieces – make the tomato slices a little thicker so they don’t get mushy.  Place them in the pan vertically in an alternating pattern (zucchini, then squash, then potato, then tomato, repeat).  Sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper, to taste, and top with lemon thyme.

Cover the pan with foil and place on grill on medium heat for 40 minutes or until veggies start to get tender (check the potato – if it’s fork tender, it’s done).  Remove the foil, top with cheese, cover with foil and grill for another 10 to 15 minutes until the cheeses is bubbly and golden.

Serves 6 and easily doubles to feed a crowd!