The Potato How-To

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Not a happy potato camper

It’s not a no-planting day, but given the changes in the potato plant (and my curiosity), it feels like a good day to perform a how-to study on the potato.

It’s in terrible shape, my potato plant – or is that potato vine? Granted, I stuck it in a jar to start, then stuck it into a small pot, then stuck that into a big pot, with no ceremony or research on how to actually grow the thing. So, like the runt of the litter, it didn’t really get a fighting chance to start out.

Here’s what happened:

Two inches, approximately 1.25 ounces

Phase 1 – Original Potato Selection:

Potato is picked for size and number of eyes. Too big and it won’t fit in the top of the jar, which leaves out russets and decent size baking potatoes. A red potato, on the other hand, might work.

Here, the role of Original Potato (aka rescue spud) is being played by a similar sized fingerling from a gourmet fingerling package.

The date of the original incident is March 15th – indeed, the Ides of March. Et tu, Tuberius?

The potato measures approximately 2″, weighs slightly more than 1.25 ounces, has five eyes from which grow three purplish leafy appendages, dark tan to light brown complexion.

At this point, the potato is known as a Sprouting Tuber, in what is considered to be the first of six stages to its life cycle. This is also known as Growth Stage 1. The full six stages are:

  • Sprouting Tuber – Growth Stage 1
  • Vegetative – Growth Stage 2
  • Tuber Initiation – Growth Stage 3
  • Developing Tuber – Growth Stage 4
  • Mature Tuber – Growth Stage 5 (harvest)
  • Dormant Tuber – not a growth stage


“Toothpick suspension” phase

Phase 2 – Toothpick Suspension:

In order to encourage survival, Original Potato was placed in a glass jar, suspended by three average size toothpicks. Nothing much happened until water was added, in Phase 2a – Water Addition Phase.

According to scientific sources, the potato hasn’t left Sprouting Tuber Growth Stage 1 yet. At this point, nothing is going to happen growth-wise except for the knocking off of several bits of eye growth. If too many of those get knocked off, you’re better off picking another spud.

Water Addition Phase

Phase 2a – Water Addition:

Water is added up to the neck of the jar, which immerses the lower quarter of the potato. For now, that’s it. For Original Potato, I squirted four drops of Miracle Gro into a pint of warm water, and used that water to top off the jar water as needed over the course of a few weeks.

Windowsill next to ceramic cat

 Phase 3 – Permanent Residence:

The most auspicious potato-growing windowsill in the house is the one that I previously thought is facing north. It’s actually east-northeast or something, so that it’s getting some very nice morning sunlight. I placed the spud stand-in near the ceramic Mexican cat to demonstrate location for this reconstruction. It’s still March 15th.

Transplant victim

 Phase 4 – To The Dirt Phase:

April 13th – After nearly a month on the windowsill partially immersed in increasingly-murky water + Miracle Gro, a few roots had appeared and what could conceivably eventually become a potato showed up. At this point, Original Potato got stuck into a 5″ self-watering pot, buried up to its nose in potting soil. This made it VERY happy.

Happy happy Original Potato

 Phase 5 – More Dirt:

April 27th – So happy, in fact, that 14 days later, it outgrew its 5″ pot and desperately needed room to grow. So it got put into a bigger pot. And grew like mad s’more.

According to the experts, this is Vegetative – Growth Stage 2. Plenty of stems, leaves, branches, roots. This stage should last from 30 to 70 days depending on soil temperature, planting date, age of the original tuber.

Unhappy or just catching its next stage?

 Phase 6 – Precursor to the Great Potato Famine

OK, maybe not that severe. However, the plant is not doing “well” when compared to other plants of its age.

At first I thought I had done something wrong, like burned its roots with fertilizer or overwatered or underwatered. But then I found this explanation of the growth stages of the potato from tuber to harvest, and I believe Original Potato is entering its Growth Stage 3 – Tuber Initiation.

In order to determine exactly what stage Original Potato (aka rescue spud) is in, I’d have to dig it up to see what’s beneath the surface of the dirt. Unfortunately, whatever stage it’s at would be its last stage, since I don’t know how to put it back in its pot with potatoes already growing.

Instead, I’m bookmarking this highly detailed site by which demonstrates the morphology of the potato plant – look near the bottom in the Appendix, for “Morphological and molecular characterization of a spontaneously tuberizing potato mutant; an insight into the regulatory mechanisms of tuber induction.” (Fischer L, Lipavska H, Hausman JF, Opatrny Z.)


I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand 1/10th of what they’re saying. But better to watch their pictures than dig up my one and only Original Potato plant to see how it’s doing!

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