Suburban Potatoes

Reader Contribution by Paul Gardener
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There 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?


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

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