A Gardener’s Diary: Potatoes will grow anywhere

Jocelyne Sewell offers tips for growing potatoes, and you don't need a large plot of land: an apartment balcony will do just fine

  • Apr. 17, 2013 2:00 p.m.

Even if you only have a small garden or a balcony,  the good news is that you can still grow potatoes successfully. You can grow potatoes in any large container that has good drainage. If your potatoes sit in water, they will rot.

I don’t use garden soil in my containers because of the clay content of our soil, and also garden soil compacts too much in containers. Use a high quality potting mix. I add compost to mine and slow release organic fertilizer. I also feed my plants with fish fertilizer and compost tea as they grow.

Some people wait for their potatoes to sprout before planting and others just plant them. If they are small you don’t have to cut them but if you do, make sure they have at least two eyes on each piece of potato.

The plants can grow quite large so make sure you have a fair size pot. I was given a special container which is 15 inches (38cm) wide and 18 inches (45cm) deep specially for potato growing. It has holes for drainage and little pockets down the sides for “stealing” some early crop. I already have four plants waiting for transplants which I will put in it.

When you are ready to plant, fill your container with at least four to six inches (10-15cm) of potting soil. If it doesn’t already have fertilizer in it, mix in a slow- release, preferably organic. After you have planted your seed potatoes, cover them with two to three inches (five to eight cm) of soil and compost. The cooler the climate, the less soil you should put on top. Water well. If it is hot or very windy, the soil will dry more quickly. To check moisture level, stick your finger into the soil at least to the second knuckle. If it feels dry, water. You need at least six to eight hours of sun a day

Once your potato plants have grown around six inches, you are going to “hill” them by adding a combination of soil and compost.

You want to add a couple of inches of a soil and compost mix around your potato plants. Be careful not to break the plants while doing this. You will be covering some of the leaves of your potato plants with your soil compost mix, but you want at least 2/3 of the plant with its leaves to be sticking out of the soil.

You’ll want to repeat this process of adding a soil/compost mix a few times more as your plants grow or until your soil reaches the top of your container. Potato plants grow fast, so keep an eye on them and don’t let them get ahead of you. You can begin to harvest potatoes any time after the plants have flowered. Just carefully reach down into the soil of your container and pull out some potatoes.

You can also wait until the plants turn yellow and die back and then harvest all of the potatoes. The easiest way to do this is to turn the container over, dump it out into a wheelbarrow or onto a tarp. Then you can freely check through the soil to find all of the potatoes. You may find some really tiny potatoes, and those can be some of the best and sweetest.

Shoots n’ Blooms, the Earth Day Food Action Society event, will take place at  Fieldstone’s Organic Granary,  4851 Schubert Rd., Armstrong on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Come celebrate the beginning of a new growing season. The fun includes live music, artisans, Fieldstone tour, food, farmers. Everyone is welcome and admission is free.

For more information: 250-558-4556.

Jocelyne Sewell writes about gardening for The Morning Star. The organic gardening enthusiast and member of Okanagan Gardens & Roses Club writes every other Wednesday.