There's no comparison between the taste of a home-grown potato with one that's store-bought. The difference, in fact, is as striking as the difference between a home-grown tomato and an out-of-season tomato.

Yet potatoes are difficult to harvest. They typically grow six to eight inches underground, you see, and harvesting them always leaves me sore for several days.

So before I gave up on planting potatoes permanently, I decided to try a different, planting technique.

This season, then, I planted our potatoes on "top" of the soil and beneath a foot of straw!

New Digs For Potatoes

The idea for growing potatoes above the soil isn't my own, and although I've known about the method for years, I've been hesitant to attempt aboveground, potato planting because harvests tend to be smaller and more susceptible to pilfering by rodents. There are ways to overcome both of these problems, however.

For example, a meager harvest can be made larger by growing varieties that develop into sizable specimens. Instead of growing "Yukon Gold," for instance, I'm growing "Kennebec."

Preventing rodents from infesting a backyard, potato patch can be accomplished, too, by setting traps baited with peanut butter. I've placed our traps beneath the straw, though, so I don't inadvertently injure birds.

I'll also invite more neighborhood cats to our potato patch with an open, milk bar. In other words, I'll leave the cats an occasional saucer of milk, and hope they catch an occasional mouse.

Growing Potatoes

The soil for our potatoes was tilled in the fall and mounded into "raised beds," beds constructed a few inches above grade. Since raised beds dry rapidly and warm sooner in the spring than other plots, potatoes grown in raised beds that were prepared in the fall can be planted as soon as the soil thaws.

Prior to planting our store-bought "seed potatoes" (smaller potatoes used for planting), I dusted them with powdered, wettable sulfur. Sulfur stops seed potatoes from rotting and decomposing, even during the soggiest, spring conditions.

Incidentally, it isn't necessary to slice seed potatoes prior to planting. Instead, purchase the smallest seed potatoes available. Then plant them whole with their "eyes" (buds) facing skyward. Besides, a sliced, seed potato is more likely to rot than a seed potato that's been planted intact.

Before setting seed potatoes in place - about one foot apart - sprinkle the site with bone meal and a fertilizer that's labeled for vegetables.

Finally, bury the potatoes beneath a foot of straw. I prefer straw to hay because straw contains fewer weed seeds.

When our potato vines turn brown - late summer - I'll know the crop is ready to harvest. In the mean time, I'll harvest a few bakers beforehand by simply pulling back some straw.

To harvest the main crop, I'll rake the straw and add it to the compost pile. The harvested potatoes will dry in the sun for an afternoon. They'll stored in a dark, dry, cool and ventilated place.

This Week In The Garden

Spring-blooming shrubs often fail to bloom adequately because they were pruned during the wrong time of year. As a general rule, then, prune spring-flowering shrubs - such as forsythias - as soon as they've finished blooming.

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