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Seed potatoes are available at most garden centers, and can also be ordered online. Stock photo
Seed potatoes are available at most garden centers, and can also be ordered online. Stock photo
ColumnsJano's Garden

The humble potato

In the realm of vegetable gardening, there are just a few examples of plants that elicit surprise and joy.

When I was teaching my gardening class at the Carlsbad Senior Center Community Garden, we often receive donations from students. One spring day in April, a student brought in five small white potatoes and asked: “Can we plant these things? What will happen if we put them in the ground?”

As always, the other nine students in my class (all of whom are over 65) offered varying opinions as to the planting process, and we finally decided on the “hill method.” After inspecting all five spuds, we found a number of sprouts, or eyes, on each, so we cut them into pieces with one “eye” remaining in each.


Our 20-foot raised bed was already prepared with rich soil, so we aerated the area, dug a hole twice the depth of the potato and covered loosely with soil, making sure that the eye was facing up. At this point we fashioned the planting to look more like a hill, so the leaves would have room to grow vertically.

In less than two weeks, sure enough, a determined little green sprout had pushed its way through the small hill, and we added more soil and watered well. We continued this process for another week, and in the third week, true leaves were beginning to form. We will continue this process for at least six to eight weeks (see harvest information).

Mary Kipp of the Carlsbad Senior Center Community Garden is growing potatoes for the first time. Photo by Jano Nightingale
Mary Kipp of the Carlsbad Senior Center Community Garden is growing potatoes for the first time. Photo by Jano Nightingale

I am certain that for seasoned gardeners, this experience is nothing new, but we all had a great time with our new discovery of recycling a home pantry material. But recommendations for purchasing seed potatoes might make a more reliable choice.


According to Nancy Bubel of “The New Seed-Starters Handbook”:  “Soil for potatoes should be on the acid side and enriched with potash for a good mealy potato. New and newly discovered kinds of potatoes like Yukon Gold and Caribe are now available as well as the old standby, Kennebec Seed potato.”

Seed potatoes are available at most garden centers, and can also be ordered from Burpee Seeds and Holland Bulb Farms.


When I need to locate growing conditions and harvesting information for any vegetable, I always search Cooperative Extension services. This information is from Michigan State University, but the Master Gardener San Diego website is helpful as well.


  • Toughen up potatoes for storage by not watering them much after they flower.
  • Let the potato plants and the weather tell you when to harvest them. Wait until the tops of the vines have completely died before you begin harvesting. When the vines are dead, it is a sure sign the potatoes have finished growing and are ready to be harvested.
  • Dig up a test hill to see how mature the potatoes are. The skins of mature potatoes are thick and firmly attached to the flesh. If the skins are thin and rub off easily, your potatoes are still too new and should be left in the ground for a few more days.
  • Don’t leave the potatoes that you have dug in the sun for long after they have been dug up from your garden, otherwise your potatoes may turn green. Green potatoes have a bitter taste and can cause vomiting and diarrhea if too much is eaten. Small spots can be trimmed off, but if there is significant greening, throw the potato out.
  • As you dig, be careful not to scrape, bruise or cut the potatoes. Damaged potatoes will rot during storage and should be used as soon as possible.
  • Store potatoes in a cool, dark place after harvesting. Too much light will turn them green.


We all have favorite potato recipes, but this is one I have made over and over to the delight of guests. It comes from one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks, the “Greens Cookbook” from the Greens Restaurant in the Fort Mason neighborhood of San Francisco.



— One large cast iron pan, not a non-stick pan

— Four large Russet potatoes

— One yellow onion, diced finely

— Three cloves of garlic, minced

— 1 tablespoon each of cumin, curry powder, paprika

— 1/2 teaspoon of each cinnamon, chili powder, turmeric, kosher salt

— Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste, to taste (found in international section)

— Three thin slices ginger root

— 1/2 stick butter

— 2 tablespoons olive oil

(Note: spices are added to onions in a dry pan, just to incorporate)


  1. Peel and slice potatoes into 1-inch cubes. Boil in salted water for seven minutes. They should be firm, not soft. Drain, set aside and spread onto clean towel; this will allow them to dry before frying.
  2. Sauté finely chopped onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil, until translucent. Sauté garlic. Without adding more oil add all of the spices to the onion/garlic mix. This is a “dry pan spice mix” so don’t be tempted to add more oil.
  3. When all spices are incorporated, add sliced ginger and 2 teaspoons of Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste, and 2 tablespoons water. Cook until incorporated and taste the mixture. Add more spices according to taste as well as salt to taste.
  4. When onion/spice mix is done add 4 tablespoons butter to pan. When butter sizzles add all the potatoes in one layer in pan. do not crowd the pan.
  5. Allow to brown for at least five minutes; potatoes should be crispy.
  6. Continue to add a few more tablespoons of butter to pan until all potatoes are brown and crispy.
  7. Serve immediately with your favorite vegetarian or meat entrée. This can be reheated, but make sure retains the crispy bottom.

Bon appetit!

Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener and Horticulturist who teaches at the Carlsbad Senior Center Community Garden. Send your favorite garden recipes or contact her for upcoming classes and consultations at [email protected].

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