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Growing Potatoes is in the Bag PDF Print E-mail
Written by DEAN FOSDICK, For The Associated Press   
Thursday, 24 February 2011 03:27

Grow bags and potatoes make the perfect pairing.

The containers take up little room, can be placed where they get good sun and eliminate much of the labor required for growing potatoes. You can dispose of the spades and garden forks.

"No more digging to plant or digging to harvest," said Frank Oliver, head of product design and development at Gardener's Supply Co. in Burlington, Vt. "Potatoes are one of the most labor-intensive food crops to grow in the garden. But doing the growing in bags minimizes much of the work... Just turn the bags over when the potatoes are big enough to eat."

Grow bags aren't a new idea. People have been making their own for years from such things as plastic garbage bags, wire baskets, whiskey barrels and buckets.

"What's new about it are the space-age materials that are available," said Jim Gerritsen, coowner of Wood Prairie Farm, a mail-order house specializing in organically grown potatoes near Bridgewater, Maine. "These pots allow plants to breathe, retain water longer and can be used for several growing seasons. They're fueling the container trend."

The new fabrics resemble the black, plastic-like sheets used by landscapers as weed barriers beneath layers of mulch. They allow water to escape rather than pool at the bottom of the bag, and let air infiltrate the soil, which keeps the potatoes' roots from rotting and becoming susceptible to disease.

Potatoes can provide a bountiful harvest, but require attention.

"They're gluttons," Gerritsen said. "They like a lot of food and water. But if you take care of them, they'll take care of you with surprisingly large returns."

Planting can begin in early spring - anywhere from six weeks to shortly before the last killing frost. Find a site that gets six to eight hours of sunlight per day. For best results, buy certified disease- free seed potatoes.

You can plant small potatoes whole or slice large potatoes into sections containing two or three "eyes," which are small indentations where buds form. Place them eyes up in a layer of potting soil about four inches from the bottom of the container and a foot or so apart. Cover them with a dirt-moss mix that retains water.

Mound the soil around the plants as they grow to generate more tubers, which form along the stems rather than at the roots. Continue mounding gradually until the container is full. It's time to harvest when the vines die back.

Beware, however, these potatogrowing errors. Don't:

• forget to water. "If potatoes get dry, you're cooked," Oliver said. "They don't tolerate drought. I recommend using a watering tray for pots - especially in areas that consistently get above 90 (degrees)."

• crowd the pots with too many plants."Use fewer plants and get higher yields. Use between three and five potatoes when planting in a container," said Oliver.

• overfeed. "I recommend a slow-release organic fertilizer that will nurture the plants over an entire season," Gerritsen said. "Give them too much of a (chemical) jolt and you'll get a sturdy plant with a whole lot of foliage, but at the expense of a sizable crop."

You can contact Dean Fosdick at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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