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I must say, potatoes were nowhere on my (giant) wish list of things I wanted to grow this year. They are just so dang cheap, and, while I like sweet potatoes a lot, I just don’t really eat much of your plain old, run of the mill potato. There’s also the fact that potatoes can take up a lot of garden space.

Fast forward to today. We now find ourselves with two potato bins in the backyard, filled with what will hopefully be veritable underground forests of potatoes (both the sweet and red varieties). How did this happen, you ask? I blame Fall Creek Gardens and their recent (fantastically awesome, by the way) potato bin workshop.

20120512. Sweet and red potato bins.

The “bins” are simply chicken wire, zip tied to a post hammered into the ground with a layer of landscaping fabric on the inside to help hold it all together. Sweet potatoes are on the left, red potatoes on the right (note that the soil is only about a foot deep in the red potato bin at this point; as the shoots grow, we will continue heaping dirt on so we will hopefully have kelp-like vertical roots chock full of potatoes by fall).

In just a little over an hour on a sunny Saturday morning, the lovely instructor convinced me that potato bins were not only the way to go but totally necessary in our own backyard. Potato bins, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

  1. Potato bins don’t take up much room, which is of particular concern in an urban environment such as our backyard where space is limited.
  2. At the end of the season, rather than digging through the dirt for your potatoes and potentially jabbing, squashing, missing, or otherwise ruining the poor dears, you can lay out a tarp next to your bin, cut open the sides, dump all your built up soil out, and pull out the potatoes, leaving a bunch of dirt to turn over into your other garden beds.
  3. Your potato bin grows with you (at least in the case of regular and red potatoes – sweet potatoes are a different beast altogether). As your planted potato eyes sprout, you slowly mound the soil around the sprouted leafy part, leaving more soil in which the shoot can send off more roots and more potatoes. In theory, you should have layers upon layers of potatoes growing as you continue to build the soil up and up and up in your bin.

I am definitely a novice as far as potato growing is concerned, so I will be sure to report back in the fall as to our hopeful success. For now, I am thrilled to see the beginnings of shoots jutting up from the soil in the red potato bin, and the sweet potato slips (fancy word for the shoots that come off a sweet potato balanced halfway into a jug of water, like an avocado seed) are faring fairly well.

20120512. Sweet potato bin.

The sweet potato slips. Sweet potatoes are in a different family from regular potatoes and red potatoes, which are in the nightshade family and whose leaves are quite poisonous.

The one strange thing for this OCD mama hen: you can’t visually gauge the success of your potato growing endeavor since (duh) it’s all happening underground. Those red potatoes may be rotting on the root under the soil, and I won’t know until I dump that dirt this fall. On the upside, they require so little in upkeep that it’s a welcomed change from the rest of the garden’s pruning and prodding and weeding.

20120512. The new potato bins.

The potato bins look right at home! Note Chris tending to the pruning, prodding, and weed(whack)ing mentioned above.

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