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Small potatoes: having a crack at spud farming

October 5, 2009

SAgardenWell, I cracked.

I have been lusting after it for some time, and was going to try to wait till December to see what Father Christmas brought, but last weekend I fell off the restraint wagon (I know: me, giving in to instant gratification – who’d have thought?) and bought it – Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion.

I love this book. It’s a beautifully produced companion to the other big fat orange/stripey that we all have, but each ingredient section begins with a good two or three pages on how to grow it. Same great alphabetical structure for the book, plus ‘basics’ sections on how to build a no-dig garden, recipes for compost, fertiliser, natural pest control and so on, and then three or four pages of recipes for each ingredient. It’s a damn fine idea. And, because of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation and its work in all those school gardens, you know she knows what she’s talking about.

As with the other cookery books, she writes in the same friendly, inclusive voice, encouraging beginners, urging you to experiment and make your own way. I have a few other garden books with bits on cooking, but if the garden advice is good, the food looks awful; and if the food advice is good, the gardening advice is patchy to say the least. Hence my joy at this purchase.

So, emboldened by Stephanie’s give-it-a-shot-even-if-you-have-no-idea-what-you’re-doing encouragement, and some solid advice from our Jamie over at Garden Amateur, I am going to have a crack at growing potatoes in sacks. No sunny space left in the garden beds, and not enough height anyway, so the potato-in-a-bag experiment begins.

Of course once I made the decision, do you think I could find the damn seed potatoes & their funky bags? No. Sold out, blah blah. But today I saw some pontiac spuds on special at the excellent Booth St garden centre in Annandale and threw caution to the wind. Bought the overgrown sprouty seed spuds (is this bad, Jamie??) and then as the nursery had no real potato bags, we skipped down to the best hardware shop in Sydney, Booth & Taylor Hardware, a Thrifty Link hardware shop on the corner, surprise, of Booth & Taylor.*

potatofarmGot home, lined the hessian sacks with garbage bags, poked a heap of holes through them with a skewer, and bunged my potentially dud pontiacs in with some composty/strawish mix. We shall see how I fare, but I must say I quite like the weirdo aesthetics of my new mini potato farm … the idea, I understand, is that as the plants sprout you chuck in more straw & stuff and unroll a bit of bag, heaping the soil/straw etc up as the tubers grow, so you end up with a little high-rise apartment building for spuds. Okay, I’ve never done it before and it could all end in tears, and the sacks are rather slender, but thanks to Stephanie & Jamie, I’m having a burl, Shirl. If you want to join me, best read Jamie on the topic first.

Oh and for those of you desperately wondering (ha) about my ailing herbs , they have survived! I got sick of waiting though, so bunged some much larger seedlings in the herb bed along with them, and now they’re all getting along happily, the ones grown from seed much smaller, but now quite healthy, while the biggies are already serving their purpose in the kitchen..

*A hardware shop digression you should feel free to skip:  I love this place and want to give it a plug. The shop is the size of a postage stamp, but is a total Tardis inside, with stairs up and down and roundabout. The guys who work there are incredibly friendly and helpful. They are specially perfect hardware guys for women to consult: not ever once, in many many years of custom, have I ever detected the faintest vibe of condescension, boredom, peevishness at my dumb questions, chauvinism or perviness from any of their staff, which is more than I can say for any other hardware shop in Sydney, including the one across the road from it and all the gigantic hideous bunningses. And I have never ever walked out without the thing I needed. Today it was hessian sacks, which one of the charming blokes fetched while Senor consulted another who gave him some sage advice about some specialist outfitting of the Art Van Go vehicle. Okay. End of ad break. You are free to go.

5 comments

  1. It all sounds great, Charlotte. Those sprouty spuds should roar away, as long as you planted them with the sprouts facing up, not down. The idea with planting spuds is that you’re meant keep them in a dark spot until they sprout, then plant them, so your sprouty spuds are ideal for planting straight away. Once your spuds sprout, let them grow about 20-30cm tall, then pile more straw/compost around them, and do that once again in a few weeks’ time.
    Love Pontiacs, the great all-rounder. Good luck!


  2. Was admiring this new garden installation when I realised they bear startling resemblance to my baggy linen pants(minus the plastic lining I hasten to say, though that would no doubt provide extra confidence). Just one moment while I check…
    I can taste those tiny taters already- you must eat some very small, surely? What butter will you melt on them?


  3. Hmm, interesting wardrobe choice Jools. Ruched at the top or bottom? Yes I want the weeniest baby potatoes… cannot wait. Just hope my fingers are green enough. And thanks for the vote of confidence Jamie, will let you know how it all turns out.


  4. I did this as well – constructed an enclosure using bamboo stakes, mesh and pegs holding it together! Harvested the first one on the weekend – three potatoes. Not a huge windfall! Nontheless, it was fun.


  5. I had this great potato farming method of standing at the back door and chucking the sprouting potatoes at the fence, just to the side of the Queensland frangipani and just letting the ones that grew grow and not worrying about the rest. Worked a treat until we got a beagle.

    I like the bags – I also did the used tyres once, but then I thought it was a bit icky considering where the tyres had been.

    I couldn’t understand why my friend grew potatoes until she cooked some for me. Must go and explore the hardware stores here…I could probably get this to work.



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