Potatoes are a staple of the North American diet. Unfortunately, many of the potatoes we buy in grocery stores have been treated with chemicals to prevent them from sprouting.
The good news is that potatoes are very easy to grow at home – even if you don’t have a yard – and you can start with organic seed potatoes to ensure you’re getting the nutritional value the potato was meant to offer. Plus, once you’ve tasted fresh new potatoes steamed and tossed with a drizzle of olive oil and parsley or mint, you’ll be hooked.
Here’s how to grow your own non-GMO potatoes at home.
Where to Find Starter Potatoes
Potatoes are not grown from seeds. Instead, they are grown from “seed potatoes,” which are simply potatoes that have begun to sprout. You can buy seed potatoes at most garden shops, and there are many sources available online (search for “seed potatoes” plus your state or province to find a local source). Check the packaging of the seed potatoes, or ask the supplier, to ensure you are buying non-GMO spuds.
You might think you could just wait for a grocery store potato to sprout and pop it into the ground. Unfortunately, grocery store potatoes are unlikely ever to produce new potatoes, as they have been treated specifically to make this impossible. These treatments increase the shelf-life of potatoes in storage, preventing them from growing sprouts and going soft, but they mean that the potatoes are incapable of reproducing.
You can try planting organic potatoes purchased from a grocery store, but the results may not be what you are expecting. Potatoes are prone to several diseases that can build up from generation to generation. These are not issues that will make people sick, but they do impact the potatoes’ ability to reproduce. Seed potatoes are usually checked to make sure they do not carry any of these diseases that will impact your potato yield. Check with your supplier to ensure the seed potatoes you buy are “certified disease-free.”
How to Grow Potatoes in a Small Space
If you have a yard with a veggie patch, you can plant your potatoes the traditional way – burying them in the soil and “hilling up” soil on top to create a small hill or mound where your potatoes will grow.
If you don’t have a yard, or if you just don’t want to take up a lot of space growing potatoes, you can grow them in a container on your balcony or porch. Here’s how it’s done:
- Choose a relatively tall container. You can buy specialty potato-growing bags, but you can also use fabric shopping bags, or even a large (new) trash can with holes drilled into the bottom and sides for drainage.
- Place about 3 inches inches of soil in the bottom of your container, place seed potatoes on top (about 4-6″ apart), and cover them with about 3 more inches of soil.
- When the potato plants start to grow, add more soil. A good rule of thumb is to wait until the plants grow a foot, then add six inches of soil. Repeat this step until your container is full. The potatoes grow on the parts of the plant that you cover.
- Water your potatoes regularly to keep them healthy, but ensure they don’t get waterlogged. You’ll be amazed at how large the plants will grow! They are actually quite attractive plants, and even produce small flowers.
- Once the greenery of your potato plant starts to turn brown and fall over, it is time to harvest your potatoes. The easiest method is to dump out the whole container onto a tarp or garbage bag and collect the potatoes.
- Be gentle when cleaning your potatoes. They will not have tough skins like those found at the grocery store. Lightly brush off the soil, give them a quick rinse, and enjoy!
- Straw instead of soil: After the first six inches or so of soil, you can top up your container with straw instead of soil. This means your container will be much less heavy when full, which may be a good thing for smaller balconies. It also means you potatoes will be cleaner and easier to harvest.
- Potato “condo”: If you’re a little bit handy (or you know someone who is), and you want a really big potato yield, you can try building a potato condo. Basically, it’s a tall wooden box that you build as you add more soil, giving you a huge amount of space in which to grow your potatoes, with a very small footprint.
The Bottom Line
Potatoes are surprisingly easy to grow and need very little attention other than some watering. They don’t need to take up much space, and the plants are even nice to look at. Plus, at the end of the season, you’ll end up with a delicious harvest of non-GMO potatoes. Just wait until you taste them!