Potatoes all year round???

I’ve spent the last year trying to achieve self sufficiency in potatoes.  I like the idea of self sufficiency in anything for two reasons: to borrow a phrase from Diary of a Tomato: it always feels good to “disengage from the military industrial complex” by not having to rely on it for a food stuff.  I also feel like I’m emulating my parents in some sort of time warp to the late 70’s/early 80s when my mother was busy spinning her own wool.  Anyway,  I don’t have enough space to grow heaps of potatoes to store for long periods so for me self sufficiency in spuds means growing and harvesting them year round.  But can you grow potatoes in Melbourne year round?  The answer seems to be a little bit yes and a big bit no.

The plants grow reasonably happily all year round (we are frost free) but although they’re growing they aren’t always setting many tubers, which kind of defeats the purpose.

Now my experiments in potato growing have been far from scientific.  I have chopped and changed varieties depending on when a given variety was shooting.  I have used a variety of growing techniques; some potatoes I grew in pots, others in the ground.  Regardless though I do have some observations which I think I will test further and that I thought I might be worth mentioning to see if others experiences were similar.

Things I have learnt:

  1. Potatoes seem to like quite a lot of both food and water – I got the best yields from plants that I gave a reasonable amount of both to.
  2. Potatoes don’t seem to like set tubers in Melbourne’s Summer or Autumn.  Both my late Summer & Autumn harvests were disappointing with yields at about 10-20% of the weight of the Spring grown ones.
  3. Potatoes grow reasonably well in Melbourne’s winter.  Although yields were still considerably less compared with Spring grown ones (about 50%) they were much better than those grown over Summer and Autumn.
  4. The best time to plant potatoes in Melbourne seems to be July – September, harvesting in November/December/January.
  5. Kipfler was the only variety that produced shoots regardless of the season.  All the others I tried seem to be waiting for the right temperatures (ie our winter) to send up shoots.

This link details Melbourne’s climate throughout the year.

http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_086071.shtml

Although Melbourne’s Jan & Feb (ie summer) average temperatures are only around 26C maximum, we do gets blocks of days with temperatures in the high 30 (around 100F)s followed by blocks in the low 20s.

I would be interested to know if people think temperature or day length has the bigger impact on the potato plants, and indeed what time of year, and what climatic conditions you find potatoes grow best in.

Perhaps armed with more information I can become self sufficient in spuds and thus tick one more edible off the don’t ever need to buy list.

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24 Responses to Potatoes all year round???

  1. Michelle says:

    Your observations do a lot to explain why my potato growing efforts have generally been a bust, I’ve been trying to squeeze them in during “off” seasons for them. I’m not much of a potato eater so I haven’t wanted to devote much space to them during “prime time”. And the last time I did the gophers and moles got into that bed and wreaked havoc. I haven’t tried them since – now I let the local farmers do the work for me. Sorry I couldn’t help any, other than to perhaps confirm what you have observed about growing them in a mild winter climate.

    • Liz says:

      Its annoying isn’t it – there should be more crops that grow well when squeezed in during ‘off’ seasons, you’d think the humble spud could be obliging….

  2. Mark Willis says:

    I dread to think how big my garden would need to be if I were to be genuinely self-sufficient in potatoes! We don’t have choices to make like you do: there is absolutely no way that I could grow potatoes here during Winter. Maybe some planted in late Summer for use at Christmas just MIGHT work, but it doesn’t take much of a frost to kill them, so this would be quite a gamble. To be honest, I like the concept of seasonality. If I could have home-grown spuds all your round I think they might lose some of their appeal.

    • Liz says:

      I think you’re probably right and from now on i think I shall limit my experiments to late Autumn/winter and spring growing.

  3. In my pretty nearly frost free garden, I can grow potato plants year round, but I don’t. Partly because they only give a half-way decent yield in late spring and late autumn/early winter. Partly because having them in the garden year round wouldn’t break disease cycles (and for that reason I even pull up any that come up accidentally). And partly because I think we’ve been suckered into the idea of spuds as a year-round staple just because for commercial growers and fast food companies, they are cheap calories. Fresh new potatoes eaten in season are a different vegetable, in taste and nutrition.

    Spuds are native to high alpine areas in the tropics and subtropics where the day length doesn’t vary hugely, so they aren’t as day length sensitive as some plants. In my research and experience, the big factor (after frost-free and, as you say, lots of water and nutrients) is cool nights. My rule of thumb is that if I still have spuds in the ground when I stop needing a doona at night, the yield is going to be dismal. My best harvest is planted in late summer/early autumn for harvest late autumn/ early winter. But if you can’t get a long enough growing season between the end of the hot nights and the danger of first frost, the best season is going to be planted as early in spring as possible, hopefully harvested before the hot nights.

    • Liz says:

      Based on your doona theory, which I like very much, we must have higher minimum temps in Autumn as my potatoes did very little at that time of year. As for the year round staple, while I agree with the sentiment for many products I’m not sure about potatoes – they do store pretty well and they are a year round crop in the regions they are native to so I might forgive them that. Tomatoes on the other hand…..

  4. Bek says:

    Very interesting! I have only grown spuds as a summer crop, but I think I may give it a try growing winter potatoes, maybe in pots so I can move them to where they get the most sun. Thanks for posting your learnings, its always great to see what has and hasn’t worked for others.

  5. Nancy Davis says:

    I am not andy help as our winters are too cold. I did find it interesting in the book, “The Quarter-Acre Farm, How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for A Year” by Spring Warren what she had to say about growing potatoes. Nancy

  6. We’re lucky as we have plenty of space to grow enough potatoes to store through the winter. We just have a tint window when we buy a few new potatoes – usually this is when the stored potatoes start to shoot and before the home grown ones are ready to harvest.

    • Liz says:

      Its great that you are able to store them so long. We don’t eat huge amounts of potato so perhaps I will try the storing thing next season. Where to put them is always difficult though…..

  7. Leanne Cole says:

    No potatoes for us this year.

  8. Dave says:

    That title really piqued my interest, as our potatoes are just about to run out. Growing them year round here isn’t an option for sure. We are just now eating our sweet potatoes, but they aren’t the same thing at all. I guess I just need to grow more spuds. I baked a chicken this week and put some fingerling potatoes in the pan to roast in the chicken juices. It was yummy.

  9. Oh Liz, you “stepped” on my toe: the thought of self-sufficiency is a twisting my brain thought! Although with our move it’s postponed for a while as I lost even my very little garden ad all I have left is five plants on my balcony…
    Anyway, quite and interesting observation you’ve done there. Those potatoes from the photo would make the most delicious and simple (I am always for very simple: why to spoil the real taste of fresh ingredients?!) boiled in the skin potatoes with dressing of dill and garlic (you had a good harvest of garlic too!)…

    • Liz says:

      Oh i’m going to have to try that combination tomorrow – nice idea particularly as I have both fresh from the garden at the moment.

  10. Tracey says:

    I agree with Linda’s comment that spuds are best treated as a seasonal vegetable. For us home grown new potatoes are as much a treat as freshly picked broad beans or asparagus or cherries – something to look forward to and enjoy while they’re at their best. Unfortunately I think recipe books/recipe websites/some celebrity chefs are as bad as the supermarkets in promoting eating out of season ingredients, or combining ingredients that aren’t in season at the same time.

    I sow my spuds in late autumn for spring harvest and I think this is the best time in my area to grow them (I’m in Melbourne). I’ve noticed that adequate sunlight is as important as adequate food & water.

    • Liz says:

      Really interesting comment. I’m not sure that my experiences regarding sunlight are the same, although i think it helps, I have had plants that have set semi respectable amounts of tubers in shade. i think perhaps next year I’ll do some experiments with pots around the garden and see if sunlight does have a big impact. Having said that I get a much better yield from late winter sown spuds than late Autumn but perhaps that is sunlight related…..hmmm now you’ve got me thinking…..

  11. And don’t forget the “agricultural” part of that military industrial complex, thanks for the mention 😉 I love the idea of taking advantage of your growing conditions and experimenting with this. There must be spuds that are conducive to growing in shorter day length, don’t you think?

    • Liz says:

      Ah the next step in the experiment perhaps – different varieties. I know there are varieties that refuse to grow outside south America as they like the combination of consistent temps year round and altitude something not really achievable elsewhere.

  12. Diana says:

    In my previous garden kipfler does best when we plant them mid-end winter.

  13. Pingback: Top 5 – Gardening lessons I learnt in 2012. | Suburban Tomato

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