Monday, April 18, 2011

Potato Families

I am ever on the quest to find the easiest and cheapest way for us to grow potatoes.  With five kids, we need a food that is fast and good, and potatoes are just that.   How thoughtful of God to design a plant that we just need to save a few of, cut up, then plop back into the ground in the spring.  Well, that's what I've been doing for the past 10 years or so.

My dilemma is that I can't find them again in the fall!  I have heard of using old trash cans, but I need mine and am a little too miserly to go and buy a trash can just to cut it up!  I have also heard of using stacked tires, but I know those would become climbing towers to my children.  I can just hear a faint cry for help as I unearth one of the boys from beneath a mountain of tires.  After reading Ruth Stout's famous "No Work Gardening" book, I tried her method of just throwing straw and old hay over the potatoes, but soon I found stray  potatoes soaking up the rays of the August sun, turning a lovely shade of green.  I've also managed to ruin nearly an entire crop of potatoes by cleverly drying them in the sun.  This was in the days before I learned that the green on potatoes is not merely a sweet blushing at the light of the sun, but a feisty defense, involving poisons we probably shouldn't regularly eat.

Over the years, I have just been careful to dig ditches and mark them well, plant the potatoes, then dig them up in the fall.  This sounds well and good, except that my potatoes must have migratory instincts!  They like to be found under the mulch of the path next to the beds I planted them, or beneath the vines of the pumpkins next door.  I know it's probably because potatoes spread that way beneath the ground.  Pretty soon however I have dug up my giant garden plot in the treasure hunt for potatoes, and for some reason, I usually choose to do it at noon in the still strong heat of summer.   We have been able to create a self sustaining potato crop, rarely buying new seed potatoes, but I fear that I'm not as self sustaining as those potatoes!  I know I need to find a new method at the ripe old age of 32.

One of the Potato Families
This year, I am trying something that I am sure has been done by many people.  I know, however, that it has  never been tried on our land, in our wet soil, or by me.  Therefore, I will try it, and have a go at it.  I was looking last year at my happy little pumpkin vines in their conspicuous and sun warmed hills and realized my potatoes would love such a high rise home.  So, this spring, instead of digging my ditches and finding my stakes, I got my five year old, and told her we were planting potato families.  Potatoes, I told her, love their families, and are very sad when they are too far from one another.  They like to have a little bit of space to be on their own and grow, but they really enjoy family time!  We took our seed potato bin and carefully created about 16 potato clans, by gently arranging groups of 8-10 seed potatoes on the surface of the garden soil in little groups.  This way, the potatoes, come fall, would be above the water table, hopefully sparing my foot in the shoveling process and my back from lifting completely sodden soil.

We then were careful to dig up lots of surrounding soil and hill it generously over the potato families, making them cozy and warm, and letting them rest so they could grow.  My daughter had great fun assisting the potato families, and we were able to plant all our potatoes in a very brief amount of time.  We will continue to mound more soil over the potatoes as they grow, giving them lighter soil to push up through, and space for the families to grow.  I'm understanding more than every, that even though the process of saving seed and planting it is so simple, it is up to us to be creative and to fit our farming to our own individual soil, land, and personalities.  We then grow food that is truly unique to our families.  I'm looking forward to meeting the new potato kinfolk in the fall!


  1. I wish you well on your potato-ing endeavor! It makes me long for the time we will have a plot to place little potatoes of our own. Please keep writing, it's good to "hear" from you again!

  2. Thanks Christabelle...unfortunately, my potato families were invaded by the chickens, and I will have to start my experiment again...from a different angle...maybe some chicken wire over the mounds is in order.


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