Thursday, November 12, 2009

2009 Overview Potatoes

I hadn't grown potatoes in years, but this year I decided I had enough space to try a potato bin. I bought two pounds of Kennebec seed potatoes in April. I chitted them for five days on the windowsill. Then I trench planted them on April 28th in a 4'x4' section of the solanaceae bed. There were 10 little seed potatoes. I didn't feel a great need to cut them up so didn't.

Bin on June 11th

The big experiment was the potato bin. I made a fairly rustic 4'x4'x2' bin to put over the planting. As the plants grew I filled the bin with dirt then compost. I kept doing this until the bin was filled 18" high. I then get tired of filling it up and quit.

Some varieties will set potatoes all the way up the stem as you cover them up. I had read that any main season potato will do this, but earlies won't. It turns out that Kennebecs aren't so good at that even though they are a main season potato. Two plants set potatoes up the stem, but only a couple. The rest never did. My bin was a bust and in addition it was a lot of work hauling dirt and making sure the stems were always covered.

Kennebecs were vigorous growers

I'm still glad I used Kennebecs. This was the year of the late blight epidemic. Due to our cold wet June and big box stores selling infected plants, the whole northeastern part of the country was infected. The potatoes got blight starting in June. I only saw a couple of leaves. I kept the plant well cleaned of blighted leaves until they got so big I couldn't find the leaves in the tangled mass of foliage. The Kennebecs grew very well. It turns out they are resistant to late blight.

Nothing else bothered the potatoes much. I saw the poop of the tomato horn worm on the leaves. I never saw the worm. I didn't know they ate potatoes. I had so much foliage on the plants that one horn worm coudn't do enough damage for me to find him.

The tubers were dug on September 11th, two weeks after I cut back the foliage. I cut it bad due to blight starting to take over and not because they were dying back in any other way. It is best to wait at least two weeks for two reasons. The first is that it lets the skin toughen up before digging. The second is that it helps kill off the blight spores before they could touch the potatoes you are digging. If you dig right away those spores could get on the tubers and they would rot. After two weeks, many of them will have died off. My final tally was 16.5 lbs. Which isn't bad for trench planted potatoes, but sucks pretty bad for bin planted ones. I did have a couple of tubers that were infected with blight. They were tossed.

Will I do things differently next year? If I ever do a bin again, it will be a small bin. If I plant Kennebecs I'll just trench plant them. I do love the the variety. They are quite tasty potatoes and easy to peel since they don't have deep eyes and are smooth. I don't know if I'll have the space in the solanaceae bed for potatoes next year. Next year that bed will be my smallest of the beds.

Maybe I should try the trash can method instead? I have a trash can that is falling apart and has holes in the bottom already. I've been using it the last several years to hold up my sprinkler so it can get over all the plants. If I use it for potatoes I'll have to find a replacement. I'll also have to find out what varieties can be used in bins. But I may forego the next experiment. Seed potatoes cost way too much through the mail. It is about as cheap to buy potatoes at the farmer's market as it is to grow them from mail order seed. I can get them locally which is cost effective, but I have limited choice in varieties. If I can't find an appropriate variety locally, I won't do it.


  1. I'm with you...Because of late blight, I can't really judge how well my potatoes would have done in my bins...or my two experimental left-over tree pots (in lieu of a trash can). It was a lot of work keeping up with their growth.

    Last year, I used potato bags, and I have to say, I was pleased. I grow fingerlings, and there were a ton of fingerlings in those bags. I just dumped them over, and the girls scrabbled out the treasures. I was thinking next year I might do a modified bag/bin system by using the fabric inside the chicken wire I use against the groundhogs. But it will still mean hauling the soil as the plants grow. And that was arduous...

    Love your overviews, Daphne! I learn so much...

  2. I tried potatoes in a very large planter twice. Then last year I just hilled them in the garden. In the end it seemed I got more from having them hilled in the garden. Since I had read so much about doing them in bins producing tons of potatoes, I was disappointed. They will always be trenched in the garden from now on.

  3. Thanks as always for the overview, Daphne! 'Kennebec' is a great potato. I do like the idea of growing fingerlings in a bin---as pricey gourmet varieties, they might justify the expense of buying seed potatoes, even through the mail!

  4. June I've thought about that way too. I'd make a circle of chicken wire and line it with something dark like black plastic. I'll get into more planning in December I think.

    The Mom. yeah so many were saying how much you get from bins, but it doesn't always happen that way. In fact most of the people I read about this year that did it, didn't get a lot.

    our friend Ben, true the fingerlings might be worth it. I've never grown them.

  5. Great bin, Daphne. Had kennebec been a stem setting variety, your haul would've been massive. I did the bin this year, next year I'm doing bags.

  6. Yeah, the bins were a bust for me this year as well. But, I'm a novice at growing potatoes so I don't really know what the problem was. Sometimes you get lucky, and more often you don't! I may try growing potatoes one more time because my husband was really excited about the prospect of homegrown spuds, and then really disappointed when the crop came to naught.

  7. I have done bin grown potatoes before and never seem to get any better yield than if I just use my regular trenching method - so it is more work and bother for essentially the same output.

    Great recap Daphne. You provide a lot of useful information with these crop highlights.

  8. I planted some potatoes in a 2'x 2' bin, some in the ground and some in big tree-sized nursery pots (about 24-30' diameter). In the pots, I put a layer of straw then a few inches of compost and mulched them with straw. They didn't do well. I think the compost dried out and I didn't realize it b/c the straw seemed to be wet. The ones that had contact with the ground did much better.

  9. Barbee, thanks

    miss m, I think I may just forgo the potatoes all together, but I'm still being wishy washy about making a decision.. I wish I had more space so I could grow them.

    Michelle, it seems everyone is getting a better yield in ground. So maybe you should try trench planting next year.

    kitsapFG, it does seem to be the theme this year - it just isn't worth the work.

    Amy, well I can't blame moisture for my problems. With all the rain we had I'm sure mine were quite wet.

  10. I was just going to say the same thing: ground grown potatoes do far better for me. I find that the hype of bin potatoes outproduces the reality. Not sure why? Perhaps it has to do with lateral root development. Just like my tomatoes, my potatoes tend to spread outward quite a bit.

  11. Wow Daphne - You're like the potato queen! I have never successfully grown a potato and I'd love to try it one day. The problem is you can't get seed potatoes down here. I've asked at box stores and our 2 local nurseries and was told there is no demand for them so they don't carry them. I suppose I could place an order online, but I'd only want a couple to try it out and most require big orders. I'd love to try it though! I wonder how they do in SFGs?? I'd like to try the trash can method one day. Nice post on the taters though!!

  12. My bin was not very impressive either, it only produced 7lbs. Your Kennebecs look very nice and the yield wasn't to bad either. I'm entirely to lazy to bin again and I really don't think the idea works. I did have potatoes just below the surface but there was few and they were very small. Next year I am going to add a new raised bed for spuds and make it an each board high so I can hill them.

  13. I'm sorry you we're satisfied with your potato harvest this year, but they do look fat and tasty.

    I'm thinking of trying the trash can method next year too. Hopefully, blight won't be as big of an issue next summer.