Earlier this spring I read Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire and I absolutely loved it! Pollan explores the co-evolution of plants and cultures over four sections--shining a spot light on apples, tulips, cannabis, and potatoes.
When I began the book I thought, "okay, I can get into the first three sections but really have zero interest in potatoes." I mean, we all know about the Potato Famine in Ireland and yeah, french fries are great, but what more is there to know, let alone to read about over dozens of page?. Boy, oh boy was I wrong!
Pollans work illuminates the multifaceted and nefarious implications of Monsanto jacking up mother nature one potato at a time. I won't summarize details stated far more eloquently by Pollan (read the book, seriously, it is ALL AMAZING) but will say that it inspired me to grow my own potatoes.
I ordered a bag of heirloom seed potatoes from Grand Teton Organics (don't buy 'em from Burpee, its owned by Monsanto!) and specified my preferred date of arrival. When the potatoes arrived I was not ready to plant them so I left them in a brown paper bag in the back of a kitchen cabinet for a few weeks. Then, last week I pulled them out and prepped my grow bags. I decided to grow the potatoes in grow bags after researching and deciding that grow bags would allow me to plant earlier than in ground and prevent me from having to give up space I would otherwise put flowers in. The grow bags also make it easier to bury the growing plants as they emerge, thereby increasing my crop yield. I recommend 15 or 20 gallon grow bags, you can buy a 5 pack for less than $30 and they are reusable! I use the same grow bags for my dahlias as it makes lifting them in the winter so much easier than pulling them out of the actual ground.
When I pulled the potatoes out to finally plant them they had dozens of beautiful sprouts on them. Look at these BLUE sprouts, they will grow BLUE potatoes, I cannot wait! I personally received so many seed potatoes in this one order that I didn't need to split my potatoes (in fact, I split my order among myself and two other gardeners). But, if you have big plans to grow a ton of potatoes or a small amount of seed potatoes, you may decided to split your potatoes. If you do, its similar to splitting dahlias. Simply locate an eye and cut it off from the rest of the potato. You will then want to allow your cut potatoes to dry out over a few days to prevent rotting. Once your potatoes are ready, simply plop them in at least 3 inches of dirt and cover with 2-3 more inches of dirt. You can use any well draining soil but potatoes do prefer an acidic soil (which is another reason to grow in containers, most gardeners don't want to acidify their soil long term--though it would serve for growing blueberries as well as potatoes but not most other plants). A good product for acidifying your soil is Kellogg Garden Organic Acid Planting Mix but you can probably get away without it. Gardeners are fond of saying that pine needles will acidify soil but alas, this has been proven a myth.
With my seed potatoes snuggled into their grow bags, I plopped them into the greenhouse where they will live until the soil warms a bit more. Potatoes thrive in conditions of 50-80 F. When it does warm a bit in a few weeks I will move the grow bags to the side of the house for the summer. Keep the soil moist but not soaked. When the plants grow above the soil simply rebury all but the top-most leaves. Then, in the fall, when the vines brown and die back, simply wait two more weeks for the potatoes to cure (they will last longer with this step). Then, go digging for french fry treasure. Seriously, its like a treasure hunt, kids love it, frantically searching for the biggest potato!