Cooking, gardening, and coexisting with nature are funny things to think about as hobbies. They’re the mechanics of survival! But they can also be fun, and satisfying, and that’s what this weekly post is all about!
Hey out there! 16 years ago today, the date was 07/07/07. Some people bought lottery tickets. Others headed to casinos. And some got married.
I’m not a gambler. I prefer the simple certainty of something like growing potatoes. Like plugging a coin into a slot machine, you can put a seed potato in a potato bag and turn it into many potatoes. Unlike the slot machine, this is pretty reliable, and pretty easy.
What’s a Potato?
If you’ve never seen one before, they’re neat. If you have seen them before, and really, they’re very common, you might be wondering what the big deal is.
Well potatoes are a great food staple. They grow easily, in a lot of conditions, and produce a good yield that’s both filling and appealing to eat. They can be the focus of a meal, a fantastic side or supplement, or even a filler to bulk out something else that’s in short supply.
Climate change is bringing food availability into immediate focus. Food prices have gone up. Potatoes are one of the biggest impact foods you can grow to help feed yourself in uncertain times.
What’s a Potato Bag?
I’m not talking about the bag they come in when you buy them at the store, even though they will try to grow in that if you leave them long enough.
This is a potato bag. It’s basically a soft pot. This is one of ours.
Why do this? For a few cool reasons.
- It’s not fragile. You can turn it over, squeeze the soil out, squeeze the potatoes out, drag it around. All that.
- It flattens for storage in the winter.
- It grows as the potatoes do, and allows for several layers of ‘mounding.’ This is the key to the whole potato bag business.
What is Mounding?
Mounding is when you take an established potato plant (which can still be fairly young/small) and build up more soil around it. This encourages the plant to keep growing and produce leaves above the mound. The stem inside the mound will produce roots instead, which can become potatoes.
So mounding is a way of increasing yield. And it’s called mounding because when you plant potatoes in a garden bed or a field, the only real way to add soil is in a mound around the plant. Wouldn’t it be great if you could make a container or something around the plant to help contain the soil? Then you could mound a few times as the plant grows.
That’s what potato bags do. They let you start a plant in a shallow layer of soil in the bottom of the bag. You also fold or roll down the sides of the bag so the plant will grow into light. Then once the plant starts to emerge, you unroll or unfold the bag a bit and add soil. Then repeat until you reach the top.
We have 3 different kinds of potato bags. These ones are felt. We had them last year also and they did really well. We have 3 total.
These ones are also felt, but they’re really shallow. I expect a small yield. Next year I would use these for something else. We have 2 of these.
These ones are similar material to a tarp. They’re sturdy and have a plastic ring in the open end of the bag that helps it keep a cylinder shape. We have 2 of these. These ones and the big felt ones are the winners.
Yes. Those are what you plant. You can buy them in garden centres, and they usually look just like potatoes that were forgotten about in your pantry, with long eye stalks. That’s not a coincidence. You can also plant your pantry potatoes.
We have a mix of pantry potatoes and seed potatoes this year, and I’ll report if there’s any major difference. But we did all pantry potatoes last year and it worked out just fine.
You can chop the potatoes up too, so that each piece has a an ‘eye’ and a little potato chunk with it. This will potentially give you more plants, and the ability to spread them out. You need to let the chunk dry out and form a bit of a skin before planting.
There are two angles to look at here. First, potato plants have predators. Slugs, potato beetles, etc. Stuff that eats the leaves and kills the plants. These are manageable, though they can decimate your plants if they take hold.
Pests in the soil, like wireworms, can be a big problem too, because you won’t know until you harvest the potatoes and see the damage.
Pest damage is pretty easy to spot, and if you’re keeping a daily eye on your garden, you will probably catch it early. You can easily compare your plants’ symptoms with info online, and take care of business. Some problems might be insurmountable, but we have tools and knowledge to try at least.
There’s a second kind of pest damage angle though. This is the animal pest variety, and it’s a plus! While some crops are a big draw to animals, like berries, potatoes are hidden from the view of birds, squirrels, mice, bunnies, etc. We have a lot of creatures in our yard, and they don’t really interact with our potatoes. So far.
I mentioned above how the soft pot makes it easy to flip and squeeze, which is sooooo much easier than attacking a mound of potatoes in the garden with a shovel or pitchfork. And then the bag flattens for the winter, or fills up again if you’re in a climate that can sustain potatoes year round.
That’s plenty for this week! Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you have any experiences with potato bags to share? How’s your urban garden going? The zucchini here is doing well, and it looks like I’ll be writing about that next week.
Thanks for Reading!