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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Starting White Potatoes, Onions and Carrots #VegetableGardening #SpringPrep #Gardening #SeedStarting

Starting White Potatoes, Onions and Carrots #VegetableGardening #SpringPrep #Gardening #SeedStarting

Gif From Google Spring 2016. I do not own the rights to it. 

"Damn, Michael! Back at it again with another spring gardening post. Damn, man!" Yes, apparently that got very famous, very quickly for, you know... purposes unknown. But as always, thankfully my timing is impeccable as I am exploiting it a full month after it went viral and the kid wound up on Ellen. Not gonna hate! Cheers to you, Daniel and your friend who is amazed by your shoes. If only all of this stuff existed when I was in school. Sigh.

Speaking of education, here's another post on spring gardening preparation (#SpringPrep). OK, admittedly, this should probably be part of your fall or even winter gardening prep, but for those of us who either garden until the ground freezes or just don't have the time to keep up with the garden during the cold bleak winter, or forget where we put certain things like tubers, this is a great way to make sure that you get to grow some potatoes, everybody's favorite food... except diabetics who shouldn't load up on complex starchy sugary foods. I'm so serious. Like, cut down... now!

For everyone else, feel free to start your potatoes immediately. A little tater background: white potatoes are part of the nightshade family. They share genes with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants (I'm probably missing one there, but can't think of it right now). For those with limited space, a plant exists which combines tomatoes with potatoes, growing the maters on top and taters in the ground. While that would be good for people with small gardens or even doing container gardening, I have no experience with these plants and can't speak to their efficiency at producing an adequate potato crop. Why? Well, let me initiate you.

White potatoes, unlike sweet potatoes, do not vine. Instead, they grow up into what is called a tower plant (made that up, but it's apt). A tower plant benefits from a process called hilling (totally not made up, but sounds too simple). Hilling is when you build up the soil around the plant as it grows. For example, the plant grows to a height of six inches. Instead of continuing to let it grow and grow, you will hill up good, loose, workable soil around the stem and some (not all) of the leaves to about one inch from the top. This will cause the newly buried five inches of plant to send out more roots which ultimately can turn into potatoes as that is what they are, roots or tubers of a plant.

These Are Not The Potatoes We Are Looking For

I should note here that white potatoes, unlike sweet potatoes (pictured left) not only enjoy cooler weather, but require it to continue growth. They will continue growing until it gets far too hot for them around 80-85 degrees in the summer. They also take a long time to grow, the normal duration for full baking potatoes clocks in around 120 days. This, again, is why now is a good time to start them, or even earlier (zone 5 or 6 here people; Northeast Ohio; always check your zone for last frost dates). As I tried to allude to earlier, a common practice for many gardeners is to plant the potatoes in the late fall/winter garden, and have them go dormant during winter's coldness. This works well especially if you're not going to till the ground in the spring. The buried tubers can survive below zero temperatures in some cases and will still produce viable plants come spring. However, for the first time gardener who knew nothing of winter prep, or who doesn't have an already prepared garden bed, this method works best and you don't risk the potatoes rotting away in the ground. Not to mention, you don't waste a potato.

So, with all of that explained, here are the instructions. Note that this process takes quite a while to prepare in any case.

You will need:
A potato with plant stemming already forming on it as explained in step one (see picture below).

Good, clean water. It can be from the tap, but let it sit out a day so some of the chemicals can die back.
I Am Not An Aquafina Spokesperson. I Already Drank The Water Inside And Reused The Bottle For Tap Water

Seed-starting potting mix (regular potting soil may do fine also, but make sure it is something loomy and light)

A knife or scissors, though you can do this all with your hand. I use my hand in the video but a knife in the pictures. Again, younglings just getting into gardening should do fine using their hands and fingers.

One small cup or container to grow in. (For more info on this, see a later post on how to prepare for step two after seed germination).

A fluorescent light that you can get very close to the plants. We're talking inches from them.
Bad Picture And the Plants Got In The Way, But You Also See The Closeness You Want To Achieve

Step one.
Those Strange Growths Are Called Eye Stems or Eyes
Gather a potato that you enjoy eating. While you can purchase them from the store, you must take care to either buy organic or check if there is any growth inhibitor sprayed on them. A good way to test this is to look into a bag and see if any of the spuds have what are called eyes, or the little white or green protrusions on the potato that are damaged or browned-out. This is the tuber trying to produce a plant. This is what we will be working with. Sometimes these can take a few weeks to grow to a good size on the potatoes, however, a good practice to make the process go faster is to put the potatoes into a clear bag in a place that will be partially exposed to the sun on a daily basis. Contrary to some opinion, this won't smother the root. Instead, it acts as a greenhouse bag similar to how I do the seeds. No water needed as the potato will draw moisture from the air.

This Is The Third Potato. I'd Recommend Letting The Eyes Grow Bigger
Step two.
Once the eyes are big enough (see the size above) you want to pull them off. Another good gauge for sizing the eyes is to look at the sides and see if there are rings of white nodules or bumps circling around the entire eye. These bumps turn into roots. Also, it is a good idea to make sure that the tips have shown some signs of greening or have closed leaves. In the video below, you can clearly see that the tips of the spuds look like a closed flower right before it blooms.

Step three.
Pick these eyes off, making sure not to squeeze it too hard. You can also cut it off, though I find that gently twisting it off works best. You don't want any of the potato left on the end, unlike other methods.

Step four.
Then, all you do is take that, make sure that the green or leafy-forming part is facing up, and you stick that little stem into a good seed-starting mix and water it. Put it under a fluorescent light as close as you can get it, and watch it grow. Try to give it at least eight hours a day. You want it to be no less than two inches tall when you transplant. That's right, they don't have to be very tall before you plant them. The great thing about winter plants is that you can start hardening them off almost immediately.

Very Small, But It Works. It'll Explode With Roots In A Matter Of Three Days If Healthy

What is hardening off, you ask? Getting a plant used to the rough outside weather. This is done by putting the plant outside for small increments of time each day. Start with two hours, then three the next day, increasing by one hour every two days until they show little to no stress (droopiness, dying leaves, etc.). You only need to do this for one week with potatoes as they should be hilled immediately when going into the ground. But that is another post.

A note, I know the title mentions carrots and onions, too. I really only tacked that on because I forgot to mention that onions are also a good winter crop, though they are one of the few winter crops that do well throughout the summer. With another long growing season at 120 days, they take a very long time to mature, and aren't often grown by home growers. But if you want to grow those, you should start them and carrots the same way as the bag method. Get a paper towel, wet it, throw the seeds on there, slip the towel into a plastic bag and put it in a warm place around 70 degrees and wait until they germinate. Carrots grow well with onions as the pungency of the onions keeps away certain insects and can deter certain animals, though not all. Stay tuned for the post-germination transfer of all the seeds into a growing medium coming in the next day or so.

What do you think? Will you try to grow your own potatoes? Do you have the space for it? Was there anything you didn't understand simply about the process of starting the potatoes? Again, getting them in the ground and further care will be covered in a future post, so stay tuned. Oh, and yes you can still eat the potato after you've gotten the eyes off, just avoid any green which should be very close to the surface if any has built up in the potato at all. Click the #SeedStarting link in the title to find the post on seed-starting as a whole. Any other questions about the starting process, let me know in the comments below (hint: click the no comments button if you see no comments).

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Until next time, "Spuds MacKenzie was just a cheap rip-off imitation of me." ~ Mr. Potato Head.

For Shame! For delicious shame!

P.S. Wow! So much wrong with that. First off, Mr. Potato Head, Spuds MacKenzie was a dog. Had nothing to do with potatoes. And second off, I sincerely question your validity as a spokesperson and role model for our children. You and your wife are shown eating--no, cannibalizing bag after bag of Lay's potato chips. What will you do next? Start eating french fries? Hmph! Indignant!

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