By Pat Naughton
Shamrocks are commonly associated with St. Patrick’s Day. There is another plant with more impact on the Irish people than St. Patrick’s shamrock, potatoes. The potato blight which began in 1845 resulted in the death of one million people and two million people emigrating. For many Irish-Americans potatoes are a staple. Potatoes are very easy to grow, especially in containers. Potatoes should be planted two to three weeks before the last frost. For Brunswick County the average last frost is March 19th. The beginning of March is the perfect time to plant.
Containers have several advantages for growing potatoes over a garden plot. Containers can be moved to sunny areas or indoors on cold days and nights. It’s easy to maintain proper moisture with a container that has drain holes. Harvesting is very easy, just empty out container.
A 5-gallon bucket is well suited for growing potatoes. A cardboard box lined with a plastic sheet or bag will also work. If using a bucket, drill holes in the bottom a few inches apart. Place large rocks in the bottom. Don’t use gravel. Gravel will be difficult to remove when reusing the soil. I have even used scraps of wood, cut in 2” blocks. Fill the bucket up one third with soil. Raised bed soil is a good medium for potatoes.
Seed potatoes are available at gardening centers. Any organic potato will work. Seed potatoes are never treated with sprout inhibitors. Seed potatoes should be Certified Disease Free. Let the potato sit for a week or so until buds start to appear. Cut the potato so that each slice has at least one eye. To help prevent fungus, dust each slice with sulfur. Let the slices sit for a few days to form a protective layer over the cut surface, improving both moisture retention and rot resistance. Then bury the potato three inches deep with the eyes up.
Place the container in a location that will get 6 – 8 hours of sun. As the potato grows, add soil to cover up to the top leaves. Leave a few inches of space from the top of the container. Potatoes need 70 to 90 days to mature. When the leaves begin to turn yellow, that’s the time to harvest. Empty the bucket and reap the harvest.
Colcannon is a classic Irish potato dish made with cabbage, green onions, milk, and butter. If you want to really make it look Irish, garnish it with some shamrocks.