Grit Blogs > Growing Possibilities

Suburban Potatoes

By Paul Gardener


Tags: potatoes, urban farming,

Paul Gardener and chickenThere are a lot of folks in my neighborhood that have gardens. Utah is actually a pretty good place for that compared to a lot of other largely urbanized areas. I have neighbors that grow tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and peppers. I have a Thai and Chinese family across the street that grows insanely hot chilies and lemongrass, and another neighbor who grew up on property in Wisconsin that grows corn like he was back on the farm. The one crop that I don’t know many folks that grow is potatoes.

Of course I don’t know everyone in my neighborhood, and I’m sure there are those that do, my point is that potatoes, for whatever reason, seem to be one of those food crops that have been relegated to the likes of large farms or at the very least to large lots within the boundary communities.

Last year I tried to grow them in containers in the back yard. They got a great start but just never really did much beyond that. It’s an idea that I’d like to try again, but on a much smaller scale than the ten containers that I tried last year.

Potatoes in a container

Never to be told I can’t do something though, I decided this year that it was time to get serious about this potato growing business; you know, back to basics. That meant rows and hilling. Rows and hilling was something that required space and space is sometimes a tight commodity in the suburbs. So what’s a guy to do when he’s trying to “grow possibilities” in the ‘burbs? Till some new area that’s what.

One of the features of the particular suburban area that I have chosen to urban farm is the accessory parking strip that resides just to the side of our driveways. It’s usually the depth of our driveway and in many homes has been concreted to provide a home for the RV, or the boat. In our case we had a small 14ft, old wooden boat. It sat on that side yard for 5 years and I don’t think it saw the water even once. So, I moved it out of the way, picked up the scrap wood and bits of trash that had blown in there and got to tilling.

Tilled side yard

We had brought in a full truck bed of compost last weekend for use around the house and a good quarter of it ended up in here.

After the tilling, I got around to aesthetics. One thing you always have to take into consideration when you’re trying to homestead the suburbs. Happy neighbors make for happy farmers OK? I had gotten lucky though and found some salvage vinyl fencing materials from a home that was being demolished around the corner. It took a couple of days and a good bit of creativity, but I was able to find a way to get the vinyl fencing up around the new garden area.

Vinyl fencing around tilled area

But all that is moot if I don’t have good beds right? Right! So the next step was to make sure I could take advantage of the deep tilled new soil that I had available. To do that I wanted to make sure that I could get in and out of the garden area with the minimum impact possible. I decided to add an access path and to shore up the useable soil onto one side of the garden bed. I had now officially turned the wasted space on the side of our yard into useable, arable, well tilled soil; on to the planting.

Side yard with soil and path prepared

After doing some research and talking to the old man at the local nursery, I determined that this past week was the perfect time to start planting ‘taters. I hoed and turned the soil until it was into nine nearly 10 foot long rows. I mounded them up a little, turned in some organic fertilizer and then to each bed I counted out 7 seed potatoes.

Potatoes being planted in hills

After burying them about three-four inches I covered with soil and left them be. In about six weeks I’m hoping to be steaming up some young new potatoes to eat with my peas.

The most important thing is that there’s almost always an extra little bit of land on our property that, if someone were so inclined, they could find a way to make into a productive little piece of garden. Potatoes aren’t just for the farms … well, at least not only for the big farms. With a good bit of visualizing, and a little hard work we never know what’s possible do we?

P~

You can reach Paul Gardener by email, or check his personal blog at A posse ad esse

cindy murphy
7/19/2009 12:07:28 PM

Hi, Paul. I've got kind of a weird potato question for you. Our plants did something I've never seen them do in previous years, and when Hubs asked me about it, I said I didn't know, but knew just the person to ask. He harvested a few of the plants yesterday - they were starting to die back, and he figured they were ready. We put more potatoes in then we have in the past - a customer at the nursery where I work gave me a bunch of seed potatoes - but we're still just doing it for fun as opposed to for a big production. I'm actually amazed at how many potatoes Keith dug yesterday from the three plants - we've got enough for more than a few meals. The plants from the seed potatoes are still growing strong, and aren't ready to dig yet. The harvested potatoes all came from volunteer plants. I'm guessing they grew from not-completely decomposted stuff from the compost pile I spread on the veggie garden in early spring, or from some of the potatoes Shannon missed last year when she "dug for buried potato treasure". When Keith pulled the plants, he found what looks like loose clusters of hard, green grapes under some of the leaves, which I'm sure developed from the flowers going to seed. I know that it takes a whole lot of energy for a plant to produce flowers and seed. Because potatoes are a root crop, should we have cut off the flowers to prevent these seed clusters from developing to make the plants stronger, and will it adversely affect the taste of the potatoes?


paul gardener
5/15/2009 2:46:36 PM

Thanks Tom, I actually intend to do just that! This weekend one of my goals is to straw mulch the whole stinkin garden. Next week will be into the 80's for the first time. If I don't mulch around here nothing grows worth a darn. Too hot. Thanks for your input. Paul~


tom gibson
5/15/2009 2:39:06 PM

Keep the potatoes covered with sheet mulch several inches thick. Each time the potato plants get large throw down another 3-6 inches of much. You don't need to plant potatoes in the ground. They will grow on the ground as long as you have enough organic matter on top of the roots. The will put out even more side shoots if you keep "hilling up" the mulch. Potatoes are now a weed in my garden after getting sheet mulch over 12 inches deep.


nebraska dave
4/14/2009 6:58:34 PM

Hey Paul, I love your outlook on life. I’ve been reading some of your regular blog entries and I too like to live a simple life. My grandson gives me great enjoyment as he learns about life. He was over to my house yesterday and for some reason he is just a natural vegetarian. The first thing he likes when he gets to Grandpa’s house is an Orange then an apple. Then I happened to have a vegetable tray left over from Easter and set it before him. His eyes lit up and he went straight for the broccoli. He asked what that stuff was in the middle of the tray. I told him it was dip. “Yuck,” he said. “I don’t want any of that.” But really the funniest thing I thought was when I was fixing Supper for us and I pulled out a potato. Bradley, always gets his potato in the form of French fries, or Tater Tots. “He asked what is that Grandpa.” I told him it was a potato. He looked at me kind of funny and then started to grab it from my hand. I said, “No you can’t eat it like an apple, you have to cook it first. I could just see the wheels turning in his mind trying figure out how that ugly looking thing turned into a French fry or tater tot. In my opinion it’s a good thing for kids to garden and learn where things in the store come from. My child hood experiences with potatoes come from a teenage summer. We had about an acre behind our city house that we planted in something every year just to keep the weeds down. One year we decided to plant potatoes. We cultivated the little fellers with a regular corn cultivator and when harvest came my dad had the best idea. We set a two bottom plow as deep as we could get it and drove as fast as we could. It launched most of the potatoes right up on top of the ground. We then could just walk along a gather them up.


paul gardener
3/26/2009 9:27:03 AM

Hi Cindy, We did the same a few years back and just grew a couple of them in one of our raised beds so the kids (who were much younger then) could see where potatoes come from and how they grow. I've found that little ones love to get almost anything that comes out of the ground like radishes, carrots and potatoes. Now we're really into production mode and are actively working our small piece of land to try to maximize for the space. With some luck it will work out well! I hope you'll tell us about your new side yard garden when its all up. All the best Paul~ http://apaetoday.blogspot.com


cindy murphy
3/26/2009 8:45:08 AM

Oooo, potatoes! Great idea, Paul. We always squeeze a few into the garden - mainly because the kids like to harvest them. It's like digging for buried treasure! This year though, I've got that same next-to-the-driveway strip to play in. This is a full sun area on our mostly shaded property, and I'm excited to be using the space for vegetables. Our neighbors redid their lawn last year, and in the process, brought in yards and yard of top-soil. He left a nice pile between our two yards, with the idea we could neighborly veggie garden the area. Our part of the garden has to be completely gone at the onset of winter; no permanent structures or perennials because that's where the bulk of snow from the driveway is blown. I've been wondering what to plant there - whatever it is, has to be low-growing in order not to block the roses and other flowering plants closer to garage. Yes, yes, I know - who cares about blocking the view of flowers when there are vegetables to be grown? But there's that aesthetic thing to consider, and since I work in ornamentals, and because half my paycheck it seems, goes back into the nursery, my yard has to reflect my work, yes? At least that's what I keep telling Keith. Potatoes are the perfect choice; thanks for the idea. And a great big thumbs up for salvaging the fencing and turning it into "good junque".