Updated: Jan 6, 2022
Editor's Note: Spring gardening season in North Texas is actually several micro seasons in one. Follow along with us through the changing weather as we grow our own organic demonstration garden. In Episode 2, Buried Treasures, we show you how to plant onions, potatoes and garlic. Plus we update you on the progress of our early plantings.
by Tammy Trimmer
In Episode 2 of our spring gardening series we'll learn how to grow potatoes, onions, and garlic. But first, let's quickly review what happened since our previous class.
In "Cool Greens & Rockin Roots," we planted radishes on the back side of our raised bed. And you can come over here and look. You can see my radishes have actually come up and I have little babies.
I also planted carrots. They haven't grown very much yet, so we're going to give them some more time. And then we planted 2 different types of lettuces and both of those are up. So it's going good and I'm excited.
We also planted sugar snap peas. And as you can see, the sugar snap peas are doing really well. But it's not long enough yet to start climbing the pole. We also planted purple beans in 2 of the pots and we've had our first 2 beans come up.
You can also see that I planted cauliflower before the freeze and the part that was up and growing when the freeze hit has died, but there's new growth coming out all around it.
In future episodes we'll update you on how our garden progressing and talk about any problems we experience as they come up.
Now, let's get back to Potatoes, Onions, and Garlic.
Grow In Containers And Raised Beds
Generally speaking, Texas gardeners should grow their root vegetables in raised beds or containers. Potatoes in particular do not do well here in our clay soil because it is too compacted, which restricts its ability to form a large bulb. So when you grow in a container, you won't be fighting our soil. You won't have as big of a problem with bacteria in the soil like potato blight because you're using a sterile growing mix instead of native soil.
If you are growing in any kind of storage container or a bucket, make sure that you make plenty of drainage holes. Potatoes, onions, and garlic all rot easily if they are too wet. They like continuous moisture but they do not like to stay wet. So you have to make sure you have really good drainage.
Another thing about growing in pots is that, as we water over and over again, all of the minerals and nutrients leech out of the drainage holes. So you have to continuously fertilize to replace those minerals and nutrients.
Using Fabric Grow Bags
You can also use a fabric grow bag. they're really nice. They're light weight, easy to move around, they have straps on them. They're pretty.
Why You Should Only Buy from Garden Centers
Potatoes, Onions, and Garlic bought from grocery stores are not inspected for soil borne diseases and so are more prone to introducing bacteria, fungus, and other problems into your soil, while those sold through nurseries and garden centers are produced specifically for cultivation. Grocery store vegetables are also often treated with chemicals to prevent growth, so you will likely get smaller, less flavorful results.
Before You Plant
A day or 2 before you plant potatoes, you need to cut them into pieces. Each piece should be at least 1 inch in diameter and have at least 2 eyes. After you cut them, dust them with sulfur, then let them sit and dry for 24 to 48 hours. Drying heals over that fresh cut. Then they should be fine to plant.
Hilling Your Potatoes
As potatoes grow and the tubers expand, they tend to break the surface of the soil and expose themselves. It is very important to keep potatoes from being exposed to sunlight. Sunlight causes the potato to produce solanine, which turns the potato green and makes it toxic to consume. So they must be kept covered with soil at all times. This process is called hilling.
I'm starting with buckets that are about 18 inches deep, but I'm starting with only about 4 inches of dirt on the bottom of the bucket. That way, each time I add soil, the potatoes will have more room to grow and still be protected from sunlight.
I'm going to place my potato pieces cut-side down in the soil and put in 3 equally spaced pieces around the outer edge with a 4th piece in the middle. Then I'm going to cover them with about 1 inch of dirt over the top of them. When the tops are about 6 inches tall, I will add more soil on top so that only about 1 inch of the plant is showing. Once I get to the top of my bucket, I'm going to let the plant go.
The same process applies if you are using a grow bag. You need to start low and then just keep building until you get to the top.
You will need to do hill your potatoes 2 to 4 times until you get to the top of your bucket, depending on how deep you have it. If you are growing in a raised bed or in the ground, you will still need to keep adding more soil on top of the ground until the tops of the plants until they stop growing, always leaving only about 1 inch of top growth showing.
Another thing I like about doing them in buckets is that you don't have to dig them up, so you don't take the chance of hurting your vegetables. You just turn the pot over and dump them out on a tarp or something like that and separate them out of the soil. Then you can use your soil again. you can just turn them upside down and let them spill out.
When I'm planting, I like using soft rock phosphate. It just helps with root development and fertilization. But you do not want the soft rock phosphate right up next to the potato. So you're going to put it down into your pot and add a little bit of soil on top of it -- about 1 to 2 inches -- before you put your potato in.
Potatoes do like a little bit higher acid level. That's the reason I mixed in some Comand Plus Compost because it has elemental sulfur already in it and sulfur makes the soil more acidic. I've also used our Mayer Raised Bed Mix, Mayer Rejuvenate and Composted Cotton Burr. It just gives you a good acidic soil for everything to grow in.
One potato should produce about 30 pounds of potatoes, which is alot. I can't get a whole potato in there. I'm only doing 4 little pieces, so I'm thinking you'll probably get 10 to 15 pounds out without a problem.
Once you've planted them, you want to water them really well with Maxicrop Fish & Seaweed or some kind of organic root stimulator. Some people use Garrett Juice, some people use just Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed alone.
The plant itself will tell you when it's time to harvest. When the plant gets to the point where the top is no longer growing, the top will begin to die back. At that point you can do a test dig. When you do a test dig, you'll carefully move the dirt away from around the potato and see how the tubers look. If they are still small and the whole plant hasn't died back, you can wait a few more days until the top of the plant has died all the way back.
NOTE: Do not wash them or scrap the skin. Do not leave them in the sun.
Now it's time to let your potatoes cure. Spread them out in a warm, dry place indoors where they won't be exposed to sunlight. Try to keep them from touching each other. Cure them for about 48 hours. Once that skin gets kind of hardened a little bit, then you can store them. They should keep for about 6 months.
If your harvested potatoes are small, it could be that you didn't properly fertilize them. Potatoes need phosphate rather than nitrogen or potassium, so make sure you include soft rock phosphate in the soil at planting time. Then about every 2 weeks, fertilize again with more soft rock phosphate.
You also want to make sure that your moisture level is even. If you're having trouble with that, we have moisture meters that can help you. If you watch your meter and keep it at 4 all the time, you're going to do better than if you let it go down to 1 and then up to 6 and then back down to 1 again.
When you're doing your onions, you want to make sure that you're burying them at about 2 inches deep. So start by making your row about 4 inches deep. Then take your same soft rock phosphate and dust the bottom of the row with it. (For every 10 foot row, you're going to use 1/4 cup of soft rock phosphate.) Afterwards, add 2 inches of soil on top of the soft rock phosphate so that the dust is not in direct contact with the onions. Then when you plant your onions, they will be about 2 inches deep.
Plant them about 6 inches apart. Your rows should be about 18 inches apart. I like pulling green onions so I plant them just a little bit closer so I can go through during the season and pick me some and then let the rest of them grow until they're through.
Like potatoes, you can tell when your onions are ready to harvest when the leaves start turning yellow. They'll also lay down. Once they start turning yellow and laying down, you know the onion is through developing. After you harvest them, you need to dry them the same way you do potatoes.
Gently remove as much of the soil as you can and put them in a shaded area. Let them dry for a couple of days until those skins actually start drying out. Then you can store them.
If you like, you can braid the tops while they are still green so that you can hang them. But make sure that you hang them in a cool, dry area with no light hitting them. They will keep for about 6 months to a year, depending on how they are stored.
When you store them, try to keep them from touching each other. My dad used to just throw them in boxes and keep them in they didn't store as long. They only stored for about 3 to 6 months.
Garlic is a lot of fun. I love it. But Garlic can get away from you in the garden. If you look closely at the roots when you harvest it, it has little nugget like roots similar to nutsedge on it. Each one of those nuggets can start a new plants. So if you don't get every single one of those out of the ground, it starts spreading. I planted some in my bed once and now I've got garlic in 3 beds and I can't get rid of it. And it isn't even good garlic. So that's the reason you want to try to keep it contained.
You can use those little nuggets to plant again, but keep in mind that garlic started that way takes 2 full years to grow. That's why we sell onion slips because they're already a year old.
So I do that in pots too. I do a lot of pots.
The best Garlic for our area is the California Soft Neck variety. That's what we're planting today. You can also grow elephant garlic. A lot of people like growing the elephant garlic because it has a really big bulb.
Start by taking your Garlic bulb apart. Separate all the cloves, but don't remove the outer skin. Leave that on because otherwise you will have a wet clove and it might rot.
Plant each clove pointy side up at a depth of about 2 inches deep under the soil.
Both Onions and Garlic are both really heavy feeders. Especially with them being in raised beds or pots, you need to fertilize a little more often than you would if you were just growing them in the ground.
As with Potatoes and Onions, you'll know it's time to harvest when the outside leaves to start turning yellow. But don't wait until it dies completely back. Garlic must be harvested while it's actively growing. If you harvest too soon it won't be fully developed but if you wait for the tops to die completely back, it will spoil the flavor.