Potatoes are amazing. We find endless ways to prepare them: scalloped, fried, mashed, roasted, shredded and the list goes on. They’re also one of my favorite crops to grow at home. There’s a special anticipation and reward when after watching your plants grow for months, you see round little mass peeking up from the soil. If you have kids, this is the crop to plant right now. I’ve witnessed children shrieking with delight as they embark on the treasure hunt that is digging up potatoes.
For as many ways as there are to prepare potatoes, it seems that there are nearly as many ways to grow them. Cages, tires, mounds, straw…. Our near-and-dear gardening expert with Yavapai County Cooperative Extension, Jeff Schalau, has simple and concise advice for the beginning potato grower: pick certified seed potatoes, prepare your beds with compost, plant the tubers, pile up soil from time to time then sit back and watch them thrive. (okay his instructions are a bit more detailed and eloquent, but you get the idea)
The special thing about potatoes is that as the above-ground plant gets taller, the potatoes want to rise with it. Hence the piling up of soil. Many home gardeners prefer a straw mound method. Instead of continuously adding soil to the mound where the potato is planted, they pile up straw. I’ve never had much luck with this method, but I’m still convinced there’s some merit to the hype. One of the benefits of this method is that harvesting is much easier, although personally I really enjoy searching through the soil, never knowing how many potatoes I might find. Creating a chicken wire cage around the planted area, then filling with straw would indeed make for quick harvest. You’d simply pull the cage off and find potatoes with ease.
Whichever method you choose to try, I highly recommend giving it a shot this spring. An Apache elder told me that when the dandelions start to bloom, it’s time to plant potatoes. I’m certainly watching for that first yellow flower in my yard so I can get my potatoes in the ground.