Gardening · Homesteading · Urban Homesteading

Growing Potatoes: The Easiest Vegetable To Grow

This meme always makes me laugh. Because it is so true. Every garden group I am in for self sufficiency always ends up on the topic of potatoes.

And why?

Because potatoes are so easy to grow. They are possibly the easiest vegetable to grow. Potatoes have in their code the drive to reproduce. They are not finicky like an artichoke that probably won’t even flower at all, much less produce food. They are not like corn, that will take a lot of resources (space, water and food) to produce 2 ears of corn and then die off. Nothing touches them outside of a few insects.

No, they will grow sitting in your pantry, putting out eyes that look alien and freaky. They literally have the code in them to grow if they go bad. They will grow in compost piles, and 1 bad one will produce 10 or more potatoes for you to harvest when you notice what is happening – that what you think is a tomato plant shooting up isn’t. And if you take the same potatoes and put them in the ground, they will produce forever. For they will make baby potatoes you don’t see when digging up, and those continue to grow. And repeat forever.

You don’t have to do anything honestly, after planting. It’ll take care of itself. If you have chickens, you will find potatoes halfway across your property growing, where they moved it on accident. I find them everywhere. Sometimes the boys have fun taking rotten potatoes and using them as baseballs…and I find plants growing randomly on the edge of the forest.

One Bonus:

Potatoes are in the Nightshade family (Solanaceae). Most animals won’t touch potato tops. I’ve found that rabbits, deer and chickens won’t touch the tops. This means you can plant them outside of fencing.

For example, this group starting to send up tops? Nothing touches it, even though it is right in the open. Chickens will try to scratch in it at first, due to it having worms (it was an old worm bin), so I put a piece of metal fencing around the top for a few weeks, but once it is filled in, they stay out of it. And it says a lot, as our chickens love eating rhubarb leaves. There isn’t anything good about potato leaves, as they contain glycoalkaloids, which solanine is the issue. Animals seem smart enough to leave it be. Always teach children to not eat leaves of plants unless they ask first. There are people who hate on the Nightshade family, some people are far more sensitive to eating potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant and it can lead to inflammation. I can eat them, but I wear gloves when handling leaves (my skin reacts especially to tomato leaves, and my skin gets very itchy and inflamed if working in the sun in tomatoes, and so with potatoes, I always wear gloves and long sleeve shirts because of my history.)

Just harvested new potatoes.

How To Grow Potatoes (Easily):

Buy your potatoes.

While not the cheapest way, buying sterile seed potatoes (they are potatoes, not actual seed in general) will ensure you having healthy plants for a number of generations. I buy from Irish Eyes Seeds in Eastern Washington State. The big box stores will carry shiny boxes of potatoes – usually white, yukon gold, red and blue, but those boxes are over priced and the potatoes are often soft and rotting. If you do buy that way, be sure to peek in the box and run the price in your mind for per pound. You may well find buying online is better. Do not buy them if they are displayed inside the store, or in the direct sun outside. (Again, peek inside. If it is all humid in the bag, pass on it.)

The other method is using grocery store potatoes. Which, yes, does work just fine overall. However, you do run (a very small) risk of potato diseases. I don’t worry about that too much to be honest. But there is a catch, overall you will want to buy organic potatoes. Standard potatoes are treated with chlorpropham, that inhibits sprouting. You can tell which ones are treated, as they will sit on a counter in light and never produce eyes growing, yet will turn a sick shade of neon green eventually. Toss those in the compost pile. They will eventually grow or rot, but don’t waste your time! Organic ones (in theory) should not be sprayed. I tend to plant store ones in buckets and pots, to keep them separate from the rest of the growing area. Far cheaper as well, you can often get a pound for $2 to 3 this way – and that’s a lot. I have found that Washington State grown Russet potatoes are not sprayed, as they put out eyes seemingly instantly. 5 pounds for $5 is pretty hard to say no to…..

The other option is to grow Clancy Potatoes, which are actually grown from seed. I have grown them for 3 years and they are so much fun. First you grow the seeds (great for a greenhouse in late winter), then into a pot or the ground. They are delcious potatoes. (They can also be grown from potatoes held back, after growing the first year.)

Figure our your last frost date for your grow zone and your microclimate.

This can vary wildly even in a single zip code. For example, where we live on Whidbey Island it can be March 15th to April 15th, depending on the micro pocket you are in. You want to plan your first crop to be ready to plant about 2 weeks before the last frost date. For our place, I’d plant around mid March.

Why grow early?

Potatoes like cool to warm temperatures. They don’t like hot weather, especially if they are in pots above the ground. Also, more importantly, if you grow early, you can get 3 to 4 separate crops per year of potatoes cycling through.

Get your potatoes ready.

If your potatoes are hanging out in the dark, that you want to plant, bring them out into the light. If small, you can leave them whole. If large, cut chunks around each eye. Place these in a sunny window, or in your greenhouse on a shelf. This will activate them to start growing, and the eyes will get growing. You want to do this a week before you plant. The pieces need sun to activate, to say to them it is time to get growing.

Get your grow area ready:

There are many ways. But one key note is when putting the potatoes in the ground, be sure to face the eyes up. Just like garlic, you want it to have the easiest time to grow the right way.

The most easy is old 5 gallon buckets, with holes drilled into the bottom for drainage. Toss a piece or two in the bottom, fill with light soil/compost blend. Water often and otherwise ignore

Or use old plastic swimming pools, or cloth grow bags. Even old garbage cans. Or raised beds.

In ground, dig a trench and walk along dropping pieces in, then cover.


Keep potatoes watered as you would most things in your garden, but if in pots, keep a far closer eye on it, so they don’t dry out. You want well watered, but not soggy. I tend to keep the 5 gallon buckets all together, where they sit under the irrigation wobblers, so they are watered daily (I put them on the edge of a row, in the fenced in beds.

Mound Up:

Over time you will want to add more soil or mulch (or both) as the plants surge up. Each time the stems are another 6″ high, add more around the plants.

Once the plants go to putting on flowers, stop mulching.

Harvesting and Storing:

If you are growing in pots or bags (or garbage cans), harvest will be a one time event. Dump out and pick through, I do this in a cart, so I can reuse the soil.

If you grow using mulching, you can harvest early potatoes, from the top, and then later on, get the big potatoes, digging up.

After harvesting, I gently brush off as much dirt as I can, then I lay the potatoes on a screen we built, of hardware cloth, framed with spare wood. A good rinse gets the dirt off. Then I air dry in the shade (not in the sun!).

Once dry, they either go into the cellar where it is dark and 55* year round, or into paper bags in the pantry to be used up soon.

Light is your enemy with potatoes, so keep them out of it, especially the sun.

Don’t store in plastic bags or tubs, unless they are designed for produce and are nothing but ventilation. All it takes is one sweaty potato to send the whole group into growth cycle and you will have planting potatoes, not eating potatoes.


Hold back 20% of your harvested crop. Look for the really ugly ones. Maybe you cut one on accident while digging. Leave those in a sunny area to activate, and then plant right away.

Do this, and in many areas you can grow 3 to 4 separate runs every year.

Ready for market.