Potatoes. Nothing is humbler than a potato. But, potatoes have saved many a person from starvation. When potatoes fail, many a society has dipped into hard times, see The Irish Potato Famine.
Potatoes are a great SHTF crop. Generally healthy, easy to grow, they can survive locusts and temperature swings and even drought if you’ve got the right variety. It’s not too late in most places to plant a little potato crop. I got mine in last week, and wanted to share some tips, for those embarking on potatoes for the first time.
The thing to remember when you’re planting is that the seed potato will grow new potatoes above itself. That is to say, you need to get the seed potato deep, so that there’s room to grow above it. I accomplish this by hoeing a trench to put my potatoes in. About 8-12 inches deep.
I put the sprouting seed potatoes in the trench, one every 8-12 inches. Put the sprouting eyes pointing up. Then I use SOME of the dirt from the trench to cover the potatoes. I also put some straw on top of the dirt that’s covering the spuds. The straw helps keep moisture levels even, and help keeps the light away from the developing potatoes. If sunlight gets to your growing potatoes, they will turn green, which means they are now slightly poisonous, and containing a bitter alkaloid. You can still eat them, if slightly poisoned is better than slightly dead. The plants need at least 6 hours of sun a day to grow a good crop. So, it’s a bit of a balancing act. Also, avoid growing potatoes in ground that was used for legumes the previous year as these fix nitrogen into the soil which will cause the potatoes to grow extensive haulm (the upper part of the plant) at the expense of the tubers.
When the potato plants are about 12 inches tall, you will need to hoe the remaining soil from the trench over the base of the plants. This is called hilling up. You want to bury a few joints of the haulm in dirt, to encourage a heavy tuber set. This also helps to cover the growing potatoes, (remember, they are forming ABOVE the seed potato, and UNDER ground.) I usually just pile the dirt on top of the straw, and add a fresh layer of straw to the top when I’ve got the dirt mounded up. That nice layer of straw in the middle will help drainage in the soil, as potatoes will rot if they have wet feet.
Potatoes will reach maturity in 3 to 4 months, depending on conditions and variety (so knowing when to harvest potatoes is important.) Later crops tend to store better in cold storage. You’ll typically get between 8 and 14 pounds of potatoes per pound you plant; it’ll take about 8 to 10 lbs of seed potatoes per every 100 feet of potatoes you plant.
Any potato growers out there? I’m growing Kennebec and Yukon Gold, what do you have in the ground>
– Calamity Jane