Growing potatoes from pull sprouts is a method of increasing overall yield from a single tuber. It is more labor intensive than growing from typical seed potatoes. Pull sprouts tend to produce larger (but fewer) tubers than potatoes grown from seed tubers. Since I prefer to have larger tubers for cooking, the extra planting work is worth the effort. This method works best on ‘late’ potato varieties because it tends to speed up the growth cycle of the plant. Early potato varieties generally don’t have enough time to form a good crop from pull starts. I experimented with this method successfully in 2015 and will continue to use it in 2016. Potato varieties that produced well from pull sprouts include: Magic Molly, German Butterball, Adirondack Red and Austrian Crescent.
Here is a photo guide to planting potatoes from pull sprouts:
To grow pull sprouts, potato tubers are started in a container like any other seeding destined for transplanting. Place tubers in a container, cover with soil and keep moist.
After two weeks or when the sprouts have grown about 2-3 inches tall, gently remove the tuber from the soil.
Snap off each sprout with as many roots attached as possible. Don’t worry if some of the roots break; potatoes are pretty hardy plants.
Bury the sprouts up to the base of its lower leaves. Plant them individually; at least 8 inches apart.
Imagine the possibility of holding hundreds of pounds of potatoes in just one hand. Sounds pretty incredible, doesn’t it? But this is exactly why I am interested in growing potatoes from true seeds. True potato seeds, or TPS, are small seeds that have tremendous potential for home gardeners. Buying traditional potato seed tubers every year from online retailers is prohibitively expensive even before adding shipping costs. With true seeds, you can grow a large number of potatoes with minimal upfront costs. Interested yet?
Swelling with potential, these Yukon Gold potato berries are developing nicely.
Pictured above are the berries of a Yukon Gold potato plant. Potato berries are the botanical fruit of the potato plant. Similar to cherry tomatoes, the mature berries are full of seeds and gel. The color, size and shape of potato berries will look different on each variety of potato. Not all potatoes produce berries but many of them do. True potato seeds are extracted from ripe potato berries.
So how can you grow some of your own true potato seeds? It is pretty simple. Purchase seed tubers of potato varieties that are known to produce berries. Grow the potatoes in the traditional way and keep an eye out for little fruits that form after the potato blooms. (Since the weight of the berries can pull them out of sight under the potato foliage, I prefer to contain the developing berries in a loose, breathable mesh bag so that they will not get lost if they fall off the plant. This is optional, if you choose to bag your berries, take care that the bag does not constrict their growth.) At the end of the season, harvest the berries as well as the potato tubers. Place the berries in containers that are labeled with the name of the potato variety that the berries came from. The harvested berries will be pretty firm at first. Store them indoors until they begin to soften and give off a noticeable scent of ripe fruit. Softening the berries will take a few weeks or even months. Once the berries are soft, it is time to extract the seeds. The next post will discuss methods of extracting TPS.