Revamping Sprouting Potatoes: Maximizing Harvest with a Simple Method

Have you ever reached into your pantry only to discover a few sprouting potatoes hiding in the darkest corners? It’s a tale as old as time, especially during spring. As an organized individual, I often stumble upon these potatoes, desperately searching for light in drawers or shoe boxes — my favorite potato storage containers. While the ones with brittle shoots that crumble in my hands get composted, the others that show potential get a chance to thrive indoors until the freezing weather passes. This method allows me to enjoy an early harvest of tender new potatoes.

Before we dive into the details, it’s important to note that this approach is specifically tailored for the unique circumstance of having seriously sprouted potatoes on hand a month prior to the ideal planting time. If you’re new to cultivating garden potatoes, take a moment to review the comprehensive guide on “How to Grow the Best Potatoes in the World.” It’s crucial to understand that there’s more than one way to grow potatoes!

Now, let’s explore what you can do with those bulging sprouts that have broken dormancy. At this stage, the potatoes are actively converting starches into sugars and other vital nutrients needed for growth. The duration of dormancy varies depending on the potato variety, with early-maturing ones typically having shorter dormancy periods. As long as the slightly sprouted potatoes feel firm and you remove the sprouts, they are safe to consume. However, it’s important to note that potato sprouts, like green potato skin, contain solanine, a bitter compound that can make you sick.

Further reading:  Don't Panic! Your Rose Bush Leaves Aren't Doomed

Sprouting fingerling potato

For tubers that have just broken dormancy, like the ones depicted in the image above, a simple method is to place them in a well-lit area, allowing them to green up. This process, known as chitting, involves a few weeks of greening up, which triggers the production of more solanine. This compound acts as a deterrent against feeding by voles and other critters, while also delaying rotting. Chitting or greening up potatoes is a common practice for my main crop. However, seriously sprouted potatoes demand immediate attention. If they’ve started to shrivel, they’re fair game for my earliest planting, which I begin indoors.

A sprouting potato is a marvel of reproductive botany. With a hand-held magnifying glass, you can observe numerous rounded root buds near the base of any sprout, alongside pointed leaf buds at each stem tip. In tissue culture work, potato meristem, the growing tip of a sprout, has been utilized to grow plants that develop normally. Although I only grow a few plants using this method, I root the strongest potato sprouts and compost the rest. It’s fascinating how quickly the white roots grow in moist soil, as seen in the close-up image below.

Potato roots

To accommodate sprouting potatoes, it’s essential to have suitable containers. As space becomes limited indoors during spring, I found a cost-effective solution by rooting sprouting potatoes in double-thick paper lunch bags filled with potting soil. By the time the plants are ready to be transplanted in the garden, the bags have naturally decomposed, allowing for seamless integration.

Alternatively, there’s a growing trend of using potato grow bags made from porous landscape fabric. These reusable pots, often referred to as patio potato bags, offer convenience, but they can be quite expensive. However, fear not! If you possess even the most basic sewing skills, you can create your own. In less than an hour, you can fashion multiple bags, as showcased in an informative Instructables video.

Further reading:  Recycle Your Plant Pots: Sustainable Gardening Tips

While I highly discourage growing your main crop of potatoes in bags or any other containers if you reside in a warm climate, as it may hinder tuber formation, this concern becomes less significant when accommodating seriously sprouted potatoes in early spring. Moreover, as any experienced gardener knows, potatoes are incredibly resilient and can be easily transplanted.

If most of your sprouted potatoes come from your own garden, you may have heard the cautionary advice to start with certified disease-free seed potatoes. This is particularly important as replanting your own potatoes can invite disease. However, for my extra-early crop, I take a different approach. Furthermore, in situations where the health of the mother potato is questionable, carefully removing the stems and rooting them in moist potting soil can be a game-changer. This method significantly reduces the risk of transmitting viral diseases, eliminating the presence of a decaying potato in your container.

Sprouted potatoes can range from visually unappealing to remarkably beautiful, depending on how you incorporate them into your garden or even containers on your deck or patio. The tender new potatoes grown from sprouted spuds serve as a delightful precursor to your main crop, proving that there are numerous ways to cultivate exceptional potatoes.

So, the next time you stumble upon sprouting potatoes, don’t despair! Embrace the opportunity to experiment with this simple yet effective method of maximizing your harvest. Happy potato growing!

By Barbara Pleasant