The potato originated in the Andes where thousands of varieties are still cultivated. According to John Roach in "Saving the Potato in its Andean Birthplace" individual farmers may plant hundreds of varieties. This serves as a sort of insurance against vicissitudes in the weather.
This year I chose to plant three varieites that I picked up at Easthampton Feed and Seed. I usually pick up some Kennebecs but I didn't like the looks of what was for sale so went with some Yukon gold some Green Mountain seed potato (I think that's the equivalent of buying a can that says "soda" on it). and a similarly generic red potato. They all looked healthy and were tiny so I didn't have to worry about cutting them up.
The advice on how to plant potatos to save space is legion. People suggest planting in a tire then adding tires as the plant grows up and filling it with soil. When you're finished you just pull off the tires an viola you have a huge pile of soil with some potatoes in it. People suggest putting down mulch in the fall then planting right through it. I'm sure these methods all work, but they strike me as, well, a lot of work. I go with a much more pedestrian method: I plant them in rows in the garden.
Here's the potato bed before preparation. In the foreground you can see some week old brassicas, in the background the new spinach and lettuce coming in. Off to the right is a road.
I added a whole lot of dried blood (4lbs/100 sq ft). Then broadforked the whole bed and dragged one of my wicked hoes through it. This tilled the top soil and aerated down to about 9 inches without mixing up all the layers of soil.
In years past I've made hills then planted the potatoes in them, but I've had some problems with erosion, so this year I dug parallel trenches about 4 inches deep.
I then used a yard stick -- not a meter stick as that won't work south of Canada -- to space the seed taters. It quickly became obvious that I had picked too many for my space, so I cheated: I checked several books until I found a spacing I liked and went with that. Rodale's Organic Gardening Encyclopedia says 6 inches. Johnny's seed catalog and Barbra Damrosch's Garden Primer say 12" apart. The New England Vegetable Management Guide says 6 to 8 for Kennebec 12-16 for Russets. I can always grub for some new potatoes to thing things out. Basically the yard stick was just for show.
Somehow I forgot to take a picture of the bed with tubers all sealed up. It looked a lot like the picture after I'd broadforked.
I did not water them in as tubers can rot pretty easily and I knew rain was coming.
Today's blog is kind of like one of those cooking shows where the host makes a dish then turns around and pulls the finished product out of the oven.
A stroll over to one of the compost piles revealed volunteer potatoes growing in some of last year's garden waste. I'm not sure I should eat them -- but really why not? Maybe I'll feed them to some of the surly neighbors at a barbecue.