Overcoming Rocky Ground
This year in eager anticipation of my new garden being tilled, I purchased Red Lasoda seed potatoes from a local nursery. I had dreams of a luscious harvest summer and began sprouting them so they would get a good start.
Tilling day arrived and I learned the awful truth about how rocky my garden soil REALLY is! The tractor man said, “I had no idea there were so many rocks in this part of the country.” Me either!
On to plan B.
Potatoes and other root crops need loose soil to be successful. If you do manage to get seeds planted, once the emerging roots hit rocks, they will produce poorly shaped tubers.
The best soil is a sandy loam and soil that is well drained. Very sandy soils may require extra watering to maintain adequate soil moisture. Fine‐textured soils that are high in silt and clay may not be well drained and are not suitable.
This year I decided to plant in grow bags and purchase a few bags of organic soil.
This gives me the option to control the soil and the environment where they are growing. I purchased a pack of 5 heavy-duty fabric bags in the 3-gallon size from Amazon and set to work.
Potatoes are a warm weather crop in the Northern states because they are susceptible to frost damage. In the South, they are a cool weather crop and are planted in February or March and are harvested in June and July.
Most varieties need 90-120 days to reach maturity. I have grown potatoes in various containers in the past (check my previous post here: Creative Ways for Growing Potatoes in Containers) but thought I would try the grow bag method this year. So far it has worked out terrific.
Sprout the Potatoes
Spread out your seed potatoes in a shallow box or egg carton with the seed end pointing up. The seed end has little dimples in the tuber there the sprouts will emerge and the strongest sprouts will form.
Keep them in a warm, bright spot like the kitchen counter for 2 to 3 weeks or until sturdy green shoots appear.
If you use moderate light and keep the tubers at temperatures in the 60-70 degree range, you can speed up the process a bit. This way, the sprouts will grow stocky, sturdy and dark green.
To speed up the sprouting process, you could try pre-sprouting them, or chitting them. For more details, check out PreprednessMama’s previous post: Are You Chitting Me? Preparing Seed Potatoes for Planting.
Planting in Grow Bags
The potato tuber develops from underground stems called stolons. Dormant buds (eyes) develop on the tuber.
Tuber formation begins when plants are 6 to 8 inches tall, or five to seven weeks after planting, and results from the production and movement of starch into the developing tubers. (source)
Add 3 inches of soil to the bottom of each grow bag and place your sprouted seed potato pieces.
Once the plants reach about 4 inches tall, add more soil and continue adding until the bag is full. Place in an area with full sun, and be sure to cover the plant bag if a hard frost is expected.
Watering and Harvest of Grow Bags
Maintain even moisture until harvest time. Potatoes are very sensitive to soil moisture so even soil moisture levels throughout the root zone should be maintained, though over‐wet and saturated conditions should also be avoided.
For small “new potatoes” you can begin harvesting once the plant starts blossoming and for varieties that don’t bloom, you can start harvesting about 10 weeks after planting.
Regular size potatoes will be ready for harvest once the tops have died back half-way at about 17 -18 weeks after planting.
I anticipate that harvesting will be super easy, in that I will only need to cut off the plant tops, loosen the soil and dump out the contents.
Top Benefits of Grow Bags
- Grow bags are great at holding in the heat and have superior drainage to plastic or rubber containers;
- Unlike beds, grow bags can be easily moved around. For instance, if the potatoes get shaded by other plants you can move them to a brighter spot; the same goes for a pest infestation;
- Growing potatoes in grow bags is a great way of getting a denser rooting system in the first few years of the plant through a process known as “air pruning.”
Are There Any Drawbacks to Having Potatoes in Grow Bags?
Initially, I was concerned that the bag fabric would wick water away from the plant roots. I have not found that to be a problem and in fact, the fabric seems to be retaining moisture for the plant to use.
We have had several big rain events in the past few weeks (one even dumped 5 inches) and I was glad that my potatoes were in the grow bags and not in the regular garden with the soggy soil.
We have constant sweeping winds here in Central Texas. I was concerned that the wind would dry the bags out too quickly and that I would not be able to retain moisture.
I have placed the grow bags on the deck stairs in a somewhat wind protected area. This has helped them retain moisture so I do not need to water any more than normal.
To overcome my rocky garden soil I have planted this year’s potatoes in grow bags. It has given me perfect control over the soil and watering requirements that I need for a terrific crop.
I will post pictures and a final review of the process at harvest time next month.
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