The weather outside is getting warmer and warmer, so why not to start an outdoor project that would be fun and healthy for the whole family? If you are new to gardening, a small potato field is a good start to get you introduced to this exiting activity because it is easy, hard to spoil, profitable and healthy. In rural communities of many countries – potato growing has become a part of a national culture. For example in Eastern Europe – people enjoy it very much: some do it for fun, others for the sake of physical exercise on a fresh air; also people consider such activity a good opportunity for a family communication. If you’re still not convinced enough, consider the following advantages:
Fresh Air Activity for Kids – The most important is that you can get your children out of computer and TV. You can even give them the responsibility to watch after the mini potato field and log the progress. Who knows, maybe they would get a credit at school for such a project or maybe they’ll get interested in biology. Anyway – doing physical job side by side with your kids is very beneficial in terms of building and maintaining a good psychological connection with them;
Exercise – if you are going to use a spade and a chopper instead of a mini-tractor – you’ll enjoy how good it is to get tired of physical labor on the open air. You’ll end up with tons of calories burned and a good night sleep. It is an amazing feeling.
Something to care about – even though the potato field might not require every day care, you will be delighted to see the result of your work. You’ll feel the pride for what you’ve done it would be a nice topic to discuss with your neighbors and friends. Being able to look aside in our stressful life is also a great benefit, so gardening can be considered a good stress relief technique.
Healthy food – Potato is a kind of a vegetable that can be stored for months and can easily make it through the winter. That is why, if you grow enough of it – you can enjoy it the whole year round.
If you’re excited about the above reasons, keep on reading – hope you’ll enjoy the rest.
Preparing the mini-field and the planting material
If you would like to start from a little mini-field just to try and see if potato growing is an activity for you, the area of 10×10 meters (or 33×33 feet would be just enough). If done properly, you would get about 150-200 kg (or 330-440 lbs) of potato from such a small field while planting about 30-35 kg (66-77 lbs). If you are planning to have your field on a ground which previously was never used for gardening, you would need to dig it up first. Considering the small size of the needed area – you can use a regular spade. In light rhythm it shouldn’t take you more than one hour. Once you’re done with that – leave the soil to have some rest. Right before planting – process the soil with rakes by making it soft and smooth. To prepare potato tubers for planting – first spread them on the floor of your garage or a shed in one layer. Keep it away from direct sunshine. Leave it like this for about a week, until you see little sprouts. Do not remove them! In fact – they are the reason why we are doing so, try to be gentle with them. Once the sprouts have appeared – the potato is ready to be planted.
When planting the potato, make sure the weather is warm enough. Mornings have to be without frost, and the soil temperature has to be about 12-14 Deg C (53-58 Deg F). The soil must not be too wet. Once you are ready, take the spade and make a row of square shaped holes of about 15 cm (0.5 foot) deep. Distance between the holes should be about 40-50 cm (a foot and a half). If you have – put a handful of ashes and of organic fertilizer. On top of it – place a potato tuber (1 or 2) with sprouts aiming up. The ideal potato is about the size of a chicken egg. If you have bigger ones – no problem, you can cut them in half or even in quarters so that each part had sprouts. After you’re done with the first row, start digging the second row. Use the soil excavated from digging the second row to cover the holes of the first row. Repeat the procedure over and over again until you are done. Once all potato is planted, process the soil with rakes to make it smooth, even and nice looking.
Weeding and Hilling
After about 2-3 weeks you’ll see the first results of your wok – green tender stalks. Once they are about 18 cm (8 inches) – you can start weeding. The main purpose of weeding is to get rid of weeds on your potato field. Along with weeding – you can also perform hilling: which means that around every potato plant you need to form a little hill. This would protect the plant from weather conditions and provide room for new potato tubers to develop and grow. Both processes are very important, and have to be performed 2-3 times depending on conditions of each particular field. A good side effect of weeding and hilling is that it makes the soil fluffed up. This helps to regulate the moisture as extra water in the soil would evaporate. In general – both processes are performed with a chopper. When picking the right tool – consider that its blade has to be not too narrow and it must be sharp. You can even sharpen the chopper blade by yourself before every weeding and hilling.
It is very important to keep the soil from getting too dry. The dryer the soil is – the harder it is for potato tubers to form and grow. That is why, if you notice that the soil is dry and hard – you’ll need to water the plants. Another good indicator – are the potato plants themselves. Once you see them getting weak and faded before they are actually supposed to, it means the soil lacks moisture. When watering the potato plants, remember that most of it is in the soil. That is why it is important to get water to the roots. If you have a water source nearby – you can use a hose with automatic sprinkler or a regular bucket. When using a sprinkler – make sure the water doesn’t wash away the soil from the hills. A good watering technique is to pour water on the roots of the plant until the soil can’t soak it in anymore, then switch to another plant giving the opportunity for water to get soaked. Then – return to the previously watered plant and add some more water, and so on. Such individual watering approach is good because it doesn’t waste water as it delivers the right amount of water exactly to the roots of the plant, while the automatic sprinkler waters the whole area evenly. Since we are talking about a small field – an individual watering should work great and won’t take too long. If the summer will be too dry, you might need to water the potato field 2-3 times.
You’ll know that potato is ready for harvesting based on the following clues: the potato plant has completely dried up and the skin of potato tubers is thick enough so it doesn’t get damaged easily by scratching. So take the spade, and dig out the first potato plant. If you did the hilling right, you should insert the spade right where the hill starts. Pick potato tubers from the soil and spread them under the sun to get dried. After that – you can sort out which potato you will be storing for eating, which you will be saving for planting next year. Small potatoes are also sorted out to cook for dogs, pigs or chicken. Once you got all that done, and the field is not empty – collect all the leafy tops and if it is allowed – burn them on the field and spread the ashes. After a while (in 2-3 weeks) dig up the field to make it prepared for the winter.
Potato is very easy to store. You can keep it in sacks or boxes. All you need is to prevent potatoes from are: direct sun rays and the frost.
Hope you liked this brief potato growing guide. As you see – there is nothing complicated or hard in it. Good luck in your gardening!