Potatoes 2015: Yeah, I’m Trying Again


I’m trying again. Last year’s potato patch was an abject failure, thanks to fire ants. They ate the roots, giving me only a few potatoes in a big patch I planted.

This year, I’m watching for them. And I WILL kill them all.

As you can see in the background, I’ve got a little 2-year-old helper who was fetching seed potatoes for me. Life is better with baby helpers.

The hoe I’m using to make the rows is this cool one from EasyDigging.com. (Thank you, Greg. I like these tools.)

These potato beds are in my former sugarcane patch. The yield of annual vegetables is much higher than the yield of sugarcane and my space is limited. Now I’m planting white potatoes – later in the season I’ll plant something else, then in the fall I’ll plant it yet again. You just can’t get that kind of productivity from sugar cane. Sugar cane also isn’t great for feeding the family… or reaching my goal of growing 2,000 lbs of food in 2015. (I’ve still got some cane growing in the food forest, so it’s not totally gone – I really like chewing fresh cane in the fall and so do the children.)

The soil is rich sandy loam and I’m very happy with it. If potatoes fail here, I might just quit.

Don’t they look pretty?

Hoping for the best.

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Goal for 2015: Grow a (Literal) Ton of Food


This last year’s yields weren’t as impressive as I had hoped.

I mean… come on!


Kid stuff. That’s pathetic, especially considering that I teach gardening.

Granted, I was running a nursery and writing about 10 articles/posts a week in 2014, plus I wrote a book… but that’s really no excuse.

This year is it. This is the year of the one-ton garden.

There should have been 10 wheelbarrows full of potatoes.

The less productive crops are being phased out (goodbye, sugarcane!) and the more productive staples will be phased in (hello, Seminole pumpkins!)

Since the weather has been so warm I’ve decided to start planting the cool-season spring vegetables now. We’ve expanded the garden beds by about 500 ft2 in the last couple of weeks and will soon add another 1000 ft2.

Yeah, I supposed I could cheat and just plant a ton of watermelons to reach my goal… or maybe giant pumpkins…

But I won’t. I am going to go for higher-yielding plants. The Seminole pumpkins did amazingly well for us, as do the sweet potatoes and yard-long beans. I’m also going to really go crazy with the cabbages. I love those. My beets are even looking good this year, so I just planted lots more. And onions. Oh yeah.

I’ll probably also try potatoes again and just kill all the fire ants so they don’t destroy another harvest.


(Would that still make my garden organic? Just a LITTLE poison?)

So there – I wrote it down. The goal for the year is 2000 lbs of produce.

What’s your goal?

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Your Garden Can Beat Climate Change, Disease and Looters: Here’s How


When the potato famine hit Ireland in the 1800s, it left three million people dead.

Three million. Because they were relying on one crop.

Are you doing the same? Let’s take a few minutes and consider the
“what ifs” of a total collapse… then see if we can beat them with a
little planning.

What If We Get Some Serious Climate Change?

A mild winter allowed this “Tropic Beauty” peach to get a head start on its relatives with higher chill requirements.

People have been worried about the climate for years. Whether you
feel we’re shivering into a new ice age or sweating our way towards
global warming, the climate is a fickle thing. It’s changed before –
many times – trailing extinctions, shattered empires and starvation in
its wake.

How can you beat something so large?

With plant diversity.

Annuals aren’t the biggest problem in a climate change scenario.
Sure, you might get shorter summers that wipe out your corn… or rainfall
that threatens to overwhelm your squash with mold… but it’s the trees
that really suffer in a big shift. You can switch annual crops as needed
but an orchard is a long-term commitment.

Different fruit and nut species have specific requirements. Some
don’t like too much cold… others need lots of cold or they won’t bloom
at the right time.

The wise gardener should plan ahead by planting a wide range of
varieties in his garden. Just changing up your cultivars of one fruit
can make a big difference.

Let’s look at peaches. As an extreme example, “Belle of Georgia” needs 850 chill hours(1) to bloom; “Tropic Beauty” needs only 150.(2)

If you get a mild winter… your “Belle of Georgia” will almost
assuredly fail to bloom in spring… and may not even wake up until
summer. If you get a long winter, your Tropic Beauty is likely to bloom
early and lose all its blooms to frost.

Spreading your chill hour
requirements that far apart probably isn’t necessary… but I grow trees
here that have a range of about 150 – 500 so I can get fruit regularly.

My Tropic Beauty peach now has peaches on it… but my Flordaking (a 400
chill-hour peach) has nary a bud.

Look at your USDA growing zone and plant fruit and nut trees and
varieties that grow further south and further north. Then you’ve got a

I’m growing pears, oranges, papaya, chestnuts and even sweet cherries
now. Some of these aren’t even close to being “proper” for my growing
zone… but every year, as the climate swings back and forth, different
plants that thrive and produce.

What If We Get A Serious Pest Or Disease?

This avocado tree had all its above-ground growth killed by laurel wilt disease. Now young shoots struggle to grow around the dead stump.
This avocado tree had all its above-ground
growth killed by laurel wilt disease. Now young shoots struggle to grow
around the dead stump.

If the Irish had balanced out their reliance on potatoes by
maintaining another staple, there would be more redheads in the world
right now (which would be a very good thing.) Unfortunately, their
climate and relative poverty gave them very few options, the only
alternative being small grains with relatively low yield compared to

What was needed was more diversity among potatoes. Lots and
lots of varieties would have helped keep the blight from striking as
hard as it did.

I never plant one type of potato. In fact, three is
usually my minimum.

Again, you don’t know what will happen from year to year. The sure-fire crop for 2013 could be a flop in 2014.

Here’s another example: for year, avocadoes have been an easy tree to
grow in South Florida. Now, however, a wood-boring beetle has arrived
carrying a fungus that can completely destroy an avocado tree – almost
overnight. I’ve seen lovely trees that had all their above-ground growth
knocked off by this disease of the laurel family.

If you’re a farmer in
Homestead counting on having an orchard of avocados to feed you in your
old age and bring in some income… you may now be up guacamole creek
without a corn chip.


How to grow grocery store potatoes

Growing grocery store potatoes!

Yes, you can grow grocery store potatoes:

This trick saves me a lot of money on seed potatoes each year.

As I relate in the video, the trick is to sprout your seed potatoes to make sure they haven’t been ruined by sprout inhibitors.

growing grocery store potatoes

These grocery store potatoes are good! See the eyes growing?

Grow grocery store potatoes from an organic market and you shouldn’t have any trouble at all.

I’ve gone dumpster diving and grown the potatoes the grocery throws out and gotten good harvests. Other times, I’ve planted grocery store potatoes without making sure they sprout well… and had them rot in the ground.

Watch the video – you’ll see what I do to grow grocery store potatoes. Then line ’em up on the windowsill until they sprout, and then get out in the garden and start planting!


The Big Potato Bed Of Huge Potatoeyness


Here’s the Big Potato Bed Of Huge Potatoeyness. Also known as part of my former driveway.

potato bed

That’s a big potato bed!

This is the first time I’ve attempted growing a bed of this size. I’m not sure how it’ll do, being that this year had some weird late cold – and now it’s hot – but we’ll see. Probably got the spuds in too late… I’ll pray they produce regardless. It may help that this area isn’t in full sun.

My daughter took the above photo, incidentally. Pretty good for a 7-year-old. Especially one that doesn’t get much in the way of camera privileges. I think I’m going to have to let her start taking more of my photos.

Here’s another one of our potato beds:

Our house was a foreclosure and the barn had been used as a garage and the ground in front of it was heavily compacted from being driven over. I feel bad for whoever had been living here – it was obvious they loved their cars. Lots of old shop manuals and bits and pieces left behind.

Now… instead of a drive… and since I’m not all that good with mechanic work… we have potatoes.


Easy potato growing


I recently found this video on easy potato growing:

That looks like a great method… but you can no longer trust manure or straw to be herbicide-free. I now view those amendments as poisonous unless proven otherwise. This is a rotten deal for organic gardeners… but it’s where we find ourselves.

I’ve been planting potatoes in every available space, trying a few different ways. Raised beds… in the ground… buried in straw.. and in our mosaic garden bed:

I had poor luck with them last year because the aminopyralid manure screwed them up, along with our hot spring weather… but I have high hopes for this year. They’re really the gold standard of survival crops, even though Florida probably isn’t an ideal climate for them.

The place I usually buy seed potatoes from sold out in January… and didn’t re-stock. So I bought a few different brands of potatoes and the ones that made eyes quickly I used for seed. Yeah, I know all about sprout inhibiting chemicals and all that jazz… and that you’re not supposed to use store potatoes… but I had good luck with them in TN so I’m trying again.

I later managed to get a few bags of seed potatoes from Aldi’s of all places… then got a few more bags at Tractor Supply. I’m planting like a madman, even though it’s a little late.

Does anyone have a good potato success story to share? I’m eager to know if any of you guys have had good luck. If so – post away, please!

UPDATE: Here’s more on growing grocery store potatoes: