Monday, March 22, 2010
Hacking the Potato
Every now and then you can find an unexpected feature of an organism that gives you an opening, an opportunity, for doing something a little different. It is sort of like “hacking” into the biology of that organism in order to get it to do what you want. The potato has such a “back door” as they are often called in computer circles. You see, the potato plant can be almost completely buried while it is growing without killing it. In fact, the leaves that are buried will just die and the stems will sprout roots and the plant will send more growth upwards. Incredibly, this can be done many times over the course of the growing season. Even more incredibly, the potato plants grows potatoes off of an underground stem of sorts. So if you bury its above ground stem, it becomes an underground stem and thus a place to grow potatoes. I have heard of people getting as much as 100 pounds of potatoes off of just four square feet of potato bed (your mileage may vary). The best part is that it is pretty easy to do.
First of all, you pick a nice spot and plant your potatoes in the spring, just like you normally would do. But don’t dig them too deeply, maybe 4-6 inches. While they start growing, build yourself a frame. It really can be made out of just about anything, as long as it can be installed in sections. If you put something too tall around your potatoes, they won’t be able to get enough light to grow and will die. So you want to go up a foot or so at a time up to about 3 or 4 feet. Wooden frames work, compost bins, even old tires can be used. Also start stockpiling some dirt. Compost is ideal since it gives lots of nutrients to the growing potatoes. I have heard of people using spoiled straw as well. Just realize that you’ll have to go digging through this at some point, so don’t use fresh manure or heavy clay.
When the plant gets up to a reasonable sized bush, put on the first section and fill it with dirt, making sure not to bury more than two thirds of the plant. Then let it sit until it has a good sized bush and do it again. Make sure you are done adding sections by the middle of the growing season or so to let it have enough time to make lots of potatoes.
At the end of the season, pull off the frame and go digging for potatoes. With any luck, you will be eating potatoes all winter.