How to Plant Potato Eyes
Many people want to know how to plant potato eyes because some of us understand that potatoes can be grown in many ways and one of these is using its eyes. But what are these potato eyes and how do we plant them? Potato eyes are the sprouts that come out from the potato tubers. These sprouts can be the next generation of potato plants and we can now propagate potatoes even without the seeds. So how can we plant potato eyes? And can potatoes with eyes be eaten? What are the requirements for growing potatoes from eyes in containers?
For trivia, did you know that about 1 billion people eat potatoes on a daily basis which makes this crop the third most important food in the world after rice and wheat?
The potato (Solanum tuberosum) is under the Solanaceae family and there are about 4,000 varieties of these crops. They also have their wild varieties of about 180 species but most of these are too bitter for human consumption.
Potatoes can be reproduced in a lot of ways – tubers, seeds, eyes, and some are genetically modified in laboratories to make them yield more robust tubers. But among all these modes of reproduction, it is the potato eyes that people are more interested in because these are easy to prepare, can be grown in our backyard and even in containers. Thus, the potato has become one of the most favorite vegetables that gardeners, farmers, people living off the grid and even those who live in small houses love to plant and use its eyes as the growth medium.
What is it About Potato Eyes?
The potatoes are not considered vegetable fruits but root vegetables or root crops. Yet, they also belong to the families of vegetables and are good sources of carbohydrates. Like carrots, taro roots, beets, onions, radishes, and parsnips, they all bear their fruits under the soil and some of these are also growing sprouts from their tubers aside from producing seeds.
The potato’s eyes usually develop from mature potato tubers, that’s why you don’t see sprouts on newly-harvested young potato tubers. When potato tubers mature, their starch begins to convert into sugar and sugar is the best medium in growing all kinds of living organisms. So the eyes of the potatoes are basically the developing stem buds of the tubers that can become new potato plants.
People have different ways on how to plant the eyes of potatoes. But the easiest way is by cutting the tuber in large chunks and leaving 2 eyes for each chunk and letting the cut piece dry out before planting them in the soil. Other people insert toothpicks on the cut pieces and suspend them in a glass of water with the eyes exposed to encourage rooting before transplanting these on containers. There are also individuals who wrap the cut pieces in wet newspaper to trigger rooting before transplanting them. However, directly planting the dried chunks right on the soil on the containers is the quickest way for the plant to recover and grow faster.
Can Potatoes With Eyes Be Eaten?
Before we go on discussing how to plant potato eyes in the soil, let’s answer one question that many people ask – can potatoes with eyes be eaten? Basically, it is not recommended that you consume potatoes that began sprouting their eyes because these are indications that the tuber has already reached its growing stage and its chemical composition has changed and can be toxic to eat. Remember that the potato’s eyes are the result of overgrowths as the starch turned into sugar. And experts say that these sprouts can be the signs that you should avoid eating the spuds.
Potatoes have their resting or dormancy period. After harvesting them, they go into this resting period to protect themselves from external conditions. So when potatoes are in their dormant state, they don’t usually produce eyes even when they are placed in favorable growing environments.
Storing them in cooler temperatures like 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) will also prolong the potatoes’ dormancy period. However, when these are placed in a hotter storage environment like 50 degrees F (10 degrees C) or hotter, this can break their dormancy period and can trigger them to convert their starch into sugar and they will begin to form eyes. So if you want to store potatoes for a longer time, make sure you keep them cool and dry and not in the basements where it’s hot and humid.
Avoid eating potatoes that have turned green also because according to Michigan State University, potatoes that turned green contain solanine which is glycoalkaloid poison (pesticide form) that is highly toxic to humans. This green coloring is a sign that the potato tubers have been exposed to too much sunlight while on the ground and have turned its starch into glycoalkaloidal form which can also be toxic to animals.
Growing Potatoes from Eyes in Containers
If you want to know how to plant potato eyes you must also know the process of growing potatoes from eyes in containers. But if your potatoes don’t show signs of sprouts, you can do the chitting process. The chitting process is aimed at breaking the dormancy period of the tubers and this is done by storing them in temperatures between 50 degrees F to 60 degrees F and you should keep them where no light comes in. The tuber’s environment can also be quite humid and all of these factors can trigger the tubers to produce potato eyes.
Planting potatoes in containers offers a lot of advantages and few disadvantages. First, this enables you to plant and care for them quickly while they are planted in small portable containers. Second, you can move their containers whenever and wherever you want. Potatoes love the sun and hate the frost. But they can live productively even without too much sunlight so you can move their containers when the frost is outside.
Third, harvesting is easier when potatoes are in containers while you can easily prepare the soil for the next planting session after harvesting. And lastly, containers are the best choice when living in constrained places like in an apartment.
The bit of disadvantage about growing potatoes with eyes on containers is that the potato tubers would not have enough room to grow if their growing space gets cramped while this can prevent the developing tubers.
So here is the processes of how to plant eyes of potatoes in containers once the eyes have grown into sprouts and are about 2 inches long:
Timed your planting. You can start planting the eyes about two weeks after the snow has gone. This is to allow them to grow their sprouts longer as the weather becomes a bit warmer. Potato eyes can die under freezing conditions so if it happens that it gets very cold again and you want to bring the containers outside, make sure you cover the soil with mulch.
Prepare the things you need. You’ll need a trowel, potting soil or compost, a container for the potting soil, organic fertilizer (if you prefer), and of course the chunks of potatoes with their eyes.
Prepare your containers. The size of your containers will determine how big your tubers can grow. If given the right nutrients and environment, the potato tubers can grow bigger in a large-size container. The containers can be old sacks, plastic pots, wooden boxes, or even the compost stack itself and plant the potato’s eyes about 2 feet apart.
Put about 10 inches of potting soil in the container.
We recommend putting 10 inches of soil instead of 6 inches in the container because you must anticipate that once the tubers develop and grow bigger, they will need more soil to go deeper.
Cut the potatoes in large chunks. If the sprouts are growing on both sides of the potato tuber, cut the tuber in large chunks starting from near the shoots and make sure that every slice includes 2 eyes each. If the potato tuber has only one or two sprouts, you can plant the whole tuber.
Place the potato eyes in the potting soil with the eyes pointing upward. If your container is just one large plastic pot, you can plant just one piece of chunk with 2 eyes and place it at the center of the pot. Two eyes could grow into 2 potato plants and this is enough to produce 2 bunches of potato tubers after about 3 to 4 months.
Plant potato eyes in a planter box should be 12 inches apart. Planting potato eyes in planter boxes is also easy. With the same height of potting soil (8-10 inches deep), the potato eyes should be placed at the center of the box at about 10-12 inches apart, cover the chunks with 1-inch soil and put mulch on top of the soil after. This distance will allow the tubers to scatter and grow bigger. For those who are asking if planting potatoes eyes up or down, the eyes or sprouts should be pointed towards the sky because this is the direction of all plants growing up
Water them regularly. Watering the soil can trigger the eyes to produce roots and to make these roots seek nutrients from the soil. During summer, everyday watering may be required. To quickly check if the growing potatoes need to be watered, insert your index finger about 3 inches deep into the soil and if it feels dry, watering is needed. If the environment is windy and dry, you may also need to water your potatoes twice a day.
Always cover the topsoil with mulch. The mulch could be of chopped dried plants or grass that is safe from diseases and seeds, or cut newspaper into strips to use as mulch. Mulch can protect the growing sprouts from getting too much sunlight and can conserve soil moisture.
Things to Remember When Planting Potatoes Eyes During Summer
Take note that after cutting the potato into chunks with the eyes, allow these chunks to air dry first for about 2 to 3 days before planting them. If you plant the chunked potatoes fresh, they may rot and the sprouts will eventually die as well. Drying the freshly cut potatoes can prevent the soil pathogens from penetrating the fresh flesh of the potato and infecting it.
Don’t forget that potatoes also need sunlight. It needs about 7 to 8 hours of sunlight every day and its soil should be kept moist but not to the point of making it damp. And when watering, let the water go down until it seeps out from the container. The water should reach the tubers because the tubers are part of the root system. This is the advantage of growing potatoes from eyes in containers because you can easily determine the water requirements of the potatoes.
The potatoes can be harvested in 3 to 4 months or 70 to 120 days depending on their variety. Or if you want to know if the tubers are ready for harvesting, wait till the flowers have dropped then after 2 to 3 weeks pull out one stem to see how the tubers are growing. Then when the plants have turned yellow and are about to wilt which indicates maturity, cut the stems and wait for another 2 to 3 weeks to allow the skin of the tubers to grow thicker. After that, you can now pull out the plants and harvest the spuds.
And that is how to plant potato eyes in containers. Potatoes prefer the cool weather especially during their growing stage so the last frost of the season could be the most ideal stage in utilizing the potatoes eyes. So regardless of where you plant your potatoes, don’t forget to cover their soil with mulch.
Now that you know how to plant potato eyes particularly on containers and you now know if potatoes’ eyes are up or down when planting, why not try planting them in your backyard using your old pots. Caring for potato plants can be relaxing but the happiest day is during harvest time. Do you love pineapple like me ? Checkout this blog How to Grow a Pineapple from the Top