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Grow potatoes at home in the ground or in buckets

Our family loves potatoes. Potatoes prepared in some forms are the favorite vegetable on many meal plates in the western world.

A single medium potato contains 50 percent of our daily vitamin C, in addition to other vital minerals. That spud is only about 100 calories and 99 percent fat free.

I have learned from gardening and working on a potato farm that growing your own potatoes is not too difficult. You can grow your own potatoes if you know how and when to plant.

You can plant seed-type potatoes or replant home-grown potato pieces. Your tubers should be cut into chunks containing about three eyes or buds each and dried for 24 hours before planting.

You can choose to plant potatoes in many ways. Most gardeners place their seed potatoes 12 inches apart in a furrow 6 inches deep and pull loose soil up on them to “hill” them as they grow. Furrows should be about 2 feet apart.

Another method is to plant your potatoes in a tilled area and push the potato chunks cut-side down into the soil. Then cover the planted area with leaves and straw. You must keep adding mulch several times during the season until only the top 3 inches of the leaves are seen. Potatoes will grow above and around the seed or original tuber chunks through all the mulch layers.

To harvest you will just push the mulch away and pick your potatoes.

Fertilize once per month with a light sprinkle of 5-10-10. Like most vegetables, the soil pH should be 6-6.5.

You can also plant potatoes in containers like half barrels, bags, buckets or baskets that are at least 15-gallon capacity and 24 inches tall. You can start in March when planting potatoes in containers. Keep them in a garage or building as long as the soil is warmed above 45 degrees and plants are protected.

When weather warms up you can move the plants outside. Potatoes planted in containers are somewhat hardy for late frosts.

No matter where you plant potatoes, the soil should be warm and have good drainage. Potatoes do not like to be too wet or they will rot. I use outdoor containers with drainage holes in the bottom.

When using tall nonperforated containers, you can place a few inches of stones, then a layer of straw and finally 4 inches of potting type soil on the bottom. You could also place an upright piece of small plastic pipe buried in the container to check the water level. If you use this approach, be careful not to allow too much water from rain to become trapped in your container. Water about an inch, two times per week after planting.

Potatoes will be easy to harvest when you dump out the container in about 120 days, after the leaf tops die off.

When planting potatoes in your container, for best results use a Russet, Pontiac or fingerling type. Lay them out on a 4-inch bed of potting soil at least 6 inches apart, eyes or sprouts facing up and cover with 3 inches of soil. Follow the covering directions described above in the layer method.

Regardless of planting method, always keep your tubers covered with soil. Do not eat any green-colored potato tubers as they are mildly toxic.

Harvested potatoes should be stored at 40 degrees in a dark space.

For that March planting in a container, source your seed soon.

For more information on growing potatoes, visit http://go.osu.edu/potatoes.

Eister is an OSU Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

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