Potato Caching

Potato Caching

A new twist on producing your own food
Stash a hidden supply of nutritious high calorie food
This is a short article with a step by step guide for the non-gardener

By Andrew Campbell

• Overview · Why Potatoes? • Nutrients • Why Cache? • Why potato crops fail • Step One – choose seed potatoes · Step Two – choose the best time to plant · Step Three – choose a location · Step Four – plant them · Step Five – hill your patch · Step Six – lift (harvest) · More details about compost · More details about seed potatoes · More detail on low cost store bought potatoes · More about the check dam • Why use a cord? • Legal disclaimer •

All Rights Reserved 2013© by Andrew Campbell

Instead of geocashing trinkets or notes, why not cache potatoes? If you like to hike and spend time in the woods anyway, why not stash a hidden food source? Combine your woodland experience with a little micro agriculture. Experiment and make a competition out of it, and see which team can produce the largest crop or the biggest single potato.
Use the methods in this article in good economic times to enjoy a unique woodland experience, or if you fall on hard times, these tricks will help you set up a hidden store of fresh nutritious food to fall back on. Of the foods you can grow, potatoes will give you the most bang for the buck, because they are easy to grow, have a lot of nutrients and calories, and can be grown without spending much money. Potatoes are a good crop to plant then leave unattended because animals don’t tend to destroy them. Read this entire article before you take any action and especially be sure to read the Legal disclaimer at the end.

Growing potatoes in the woods – Overview –
Sometime in early spring, when the possibility of frost has passed, take a hike in the woods. Take a hand held GPS, a small digging tool, some compost, seed potatoes, and a length of strong nylon cord with you. Select a sunny place and dig a trench cross slop. Put a check dam on the downhill edge of the trench. Lay the cord along the bottom of the trench and fill the trench with loose soil mixed with compost. Plant the seed potatoes pieces and tie the cord to something to help you find the crop later. Mark the location in your GPS. Come back in 30 days and hill the patch. Then come back 90 to 100 days from the planting date and use the GPS and the cord to find and harvest the crop.

Why Potatoes?
There is simply no other food crop that you can plant and leave unattended. The leafy part, the seeds and all the parts of the plant that are above ground are mildly toxic so animals don’t tend to eat them. Deer and grown dwelling rodents will usually come by and nibble a bit then move on without completely destroying the whole patch. Insects and mold can get your crop, but if you use more than one species of potato and keep the patch small you can mitigate this problem.

Potatoes can be grown in all sorts of horrible soil, in a wide range of climates, on a wide range of slopes. As long as the soil is well drained, has a lot of sunlight, and gets good rain, you can expect good nutritious food out of your cache.

Potatoes are loaded with nutrients. A typical 10 ounce (300 gram) potato has these nutrients:
232 Calories,
57g Carbohydrates
45g Starch
7g Dietary Fiber
.3g fat (that is low fat)
6g Protein
.24 mg Thiamine
.09 mg riboflavin
3.15 mg Niacin
600mg Vitamin B6
60 mg Vitamin C
.03 mgVitamin E
6 ug Vitamin K
48ug Foliate
36 mg Calcium
2.34 mg Iron
69 mg Magnesium
171 mg Phosphorus
1260 mg Potassium
18 mg Sodium
87 mg Zinc
But alas, no Vitamin A. The skin and the part of the meat right next to the skin contain most of the Vitamins and minerals.

Why cache?
If you are the sort of person who likes to spend time in the woods anyway then why not do something worthwhile while you are there. It doesn’t take much effort to stash a few seed potatoes along your favorite hiking route. Potato caching can be a lot of fun and there is a great deal of satisfaction in gathering and enjoying food you produced with your own hands. It is a lot of fun, but there is also a serious side to potato caching.

This article is meant to be distributed all over the world, and worldwide millions of people don’t get enough food to eat. Millions of people starve. This article sets down simple, easy to follow steps to help get a little nutritious food to those who need it. Potato caching doesn’t require expensive equipment or complicated organizations. Potato caching can be done by the untrained by simply following these simple steps using the most primitive of hand tools. If you live in a country where food distribution is disrupted, or where you expect food to become scarce in the near future then you might try potato caching.

Why potato crops fail
Potatoes need a lot of water. If you live in an area where water is scarce and expensive then you probably should grow something else. If your cache does not get good water within a week or so after planting then your crop probably fail. Potato crops that get inconsistent water can still produce some eatable tubers, but they will be smaller and misshapen.

Too much water can also lead to failure. Potatoes can be destroyed by mold which will most likely get into your tubers if they are planted in soil that is wet all the time like marches, meadows, and bogs. Potatoes do best if planted in well drained soil.

Some insects and bugs can take out your whole patch. It is far better to plant several small patches rather than one large one. Cache your potatoes well away from other potato gardens. That way if you should wind up with an insect infestation it will be more likely to be isolated to one small cache and not your whole crop. When you hill the crop check the underside of the leaves. If you find anything attached to the underside of a leaf, remove the whole leaf.

Potato caching – Step by step.

Step One – prepare seed potatoes –
There are “potato seeds” and “seed potatoes.” This article is about “seed potatoes.” Don’t get them mixed up; you want “seed potatoes.” This article is written to be distributed all over the world, and there are thousands of species of potatoes, so it is impossible to know the best potato species for your specific area. Get advice on the best species in your area from your local garden supply store and experiment with at least four species. If you can’t get local advice, start with these species: Cranberry Red, Yukon Gold, All-blue and Red Cloud. Your crop is more likely to survive and your yield will be better when you use certified seed potatoes. Follow the instructions that come with them. Certified seed potatoes are expensive, though. To save money you can use ordinary store bought potatoes you buy at your local grocery store.

Step Two – pick the best time to plant –
Be sure all possibility of frost has passed. Plant your seed potatoes a few days before rain is expected. If your area does not get frost you can plant any time of the year based on rainfall.

Step Three – choose a location –
Be sure to select an area that has not been sprayed with pesticides. Stay away from meadows, marshes, and any areas that stay wet. You will need well drained soil. Walk in the woods on the south side of a hill or mountain and find a sunny site. Don’t worry if it is on a slope. Potatoes need a lot of rain. Deciduous (broad leafed) trees need a comparable amount of rain so you can expect your best results in and around deciduous trees. The soil around deciduous trees is also good. As you look for the site remember well drained soil, rain, and sunshine.

Step Four – plant them –
Take a small shovel or other digging tool, about five pounds (2.2 kilograms) of compost, fifteen seed potatoes and some strong nylon cord. Hike to your predetermined planting site and dig a cross slope trench. Make the trench ten feet (3.5 meters) long, twelve inches (30.5 centimeters) wide, and twenty four inches (61 centimeters) deep. Lay the cord along the length of the trench, and tie the cord to something conspicuous. Mix the compost with dirt as you fill the hole. Be sure to break up all the clods and remove all the rocks that are larger than a golf ball. Make sure the compost is well mixed with the dirt. Plant the seed potatoes about nine inches (23 centimeters) apart and two inches (5 centimeters) deep. Use dirt, twigs, leaves and small rocks to build a check dam about six inches (15 centimeters) high on the downhill edge of the trench. Go away for thirty days.

Potatoes need a lot of sun – South facing slopes work best

Step Five – hill your patch –
Hill the potato plants thirty days after planting. If the tubers (that’s the part that you eat) get exposed to sunlight they turn light green and are no good, so you hill them with dirt to keep the sunlight away from the part that you eat. Thirty days after planting, depending on rainfall, you should have fifteen green leafy plants. Use your hands and pile about ten inches of loose dirt around the leaves. Make sure the leaves are still getting sunlight. While you are there, check the underside of all the leaves looking for orange egg clusters. These are Colorado potato beetle eggs. If you find anything that is orange, or looks like an egg cluster remove the entire leaf. This is also a good time to weed the patch. After you hill the patch it is best to stay away for sixty to seventy days.

30 days after you plant come back and hill the potato plants.

Step Six – lift (harvest) –
Ninety to one hundred days after planting go back and locate the end of the cord with your GPS. The tubers usually have delicate skins at this stage so carefully pull the cord up, and using your hands and a small digging tool, follow it. Feel for the tubers. They will be deeper and more spread out than you think, so take your time and look around. For most species of potato the skins of the tubers will be thin and soft. Treat them gently. As you find them gently put them into a bag. Don’t even brush them off, but keep them out of the sun. There will probably be a few bad tubers which you just leave in the trench. Fill in all holes. Remove all traces that you were ever there, and pack out your potatoes. The skins should toughen up in three days, and then you can wash them and use them in your favorite recipes.

Planting more than one patch –
If you plant more than one patch carry a small notebook with you and note the planting date, hilling date, and harvesting date for each patch. Wait a week between plantings that way you will have many small harvests and a steady supply of food. Keep the patches away from each other to help prevent the spread of disease and insect infestations.

More detail about compost –
Basically, compost is rotted organic waste you have laying around the house. Organic material you rake up in your yard, especially grass trimmings and leaves. Kitchen waste, also known a garbage, works well (don’t use meat scraps or banana peels). Your kitchen waste can include apple cores, coffee grounds and pretty much all the vegetable garbage. Start collecting this organic material several months before you plant. The more it has rotted the better. For this article 50% mulched oak leaves and 50% kitchen waste which includes potato peelings were used. Carry the five pounds (2.2 kilograms) of compost with you in a waterproof plastic bag and get it wet just before you start.

More detail about seed potatoes –
Don’t get “potato seeds” and “seed potatoes” mixed up. You are going to plant the actual tubers or parts of tubers which are called “seed potatoes.” Certified organic disease-free, “seed potatoes,” are available on line. Just put “seed potato” in your search engine and choose any one of many on-line vendors. You can also buy them from a local garden supply store. Ask advice about which species of potatoes do well in your local area. In the absence of local advice, plant:
Cranberry Red – These potatoes are red on the outside and red on the inside. The skin is bright red and the flesh is pink. The flesh has a moist texture.
Yukon Gold – The flesh is yellow and these potatoes have wonderful flavor. When you harvest them many will be base ball size, but there will also be a lot of smaller ones. These smaller ones are loaded with flavor, so be sure to lift the small ones too.
All-Blue – These are blue on the outside and blue on the inside. Sometimes they come out with more of a purple color. They have wonderful flavor.
Red Cloud – These potatoes are red or a sort of crimson on the outside and white on the inside. The flesh is dry.

A small order of “certified seed potatoes” purchased on line.

More detail about store bought potatoes –
If you don’t want to spend the money for certified seed potatoes, you can use potatoes you buy at a grocery store. Purchase a bag of regular potatoes from your local grocery store. Put 15 of them into a paper bag and store them in a cool dark place. From time to time check the eyes. (The eyes are the little dimples on the surface). The eyes should start to sprout. Some store bought potatoes don’t sprout. If they do not sprout, try another species of potato. You can reduce your cost even more by cutting the potatoes into smaller parts. Cut the potato into pieces so that each piece has at least two eyes. Cut them into pieces as you plant them.

To save money you can buy regular potatoes at a grocery store.

More information about the check dam –
The purpose of the check dam is to get more water to the potatoes. Design your check dam so that some of the water that runs down the slope is forced to puddle and drain into your potato patch. Use sticks, rocks and dirt to raise a dam about six inches (15 centimeters) high along the downhill side of your trench. You don’t need a check dam if your potato patch is on almost level ground.

More information about the cord –
Usually the leaves are completely gone at harvest time which makes the tubers almost impossible to find. The cord is invaluable, even if you use a GPS. Some people regard leaving the cord as littering, so only use the cord if you are positive that you will return to remove it at harvest time. If you choose not to use the cord, line up rocks or take a digital photo to help you find it.

Legal disclaimer –
Since this article is distributed all over the world, the author can’t possibly know all the applicable laws. Each reader is responsible to learn local laws and regulations. Nothing in this article should be taken to suggest or imply that the reader should do anything illegal. Parts of the potato plant are toxic and the tubers can become toxic if exposed to the sun. This is a “cast your fate to the wind” sort of activity. Some people who use these techniques don’t harvest any potatoes at all. Your success is closely tied to rain patterns and soil. Never litter. Don’t go into the woods alone. At the harvest remove all traces that you were ever there, and leave the land exactly as you found it.

Please email us andy@fawnskin.com with information about your cache.
Please include your name or nickname
The general location of your patch
Planting and harvesting dates
General information about the rainfall
General information about the existing soil
Information about your compost
The species of potatoes that you planted
The yield
And any other comments you would like to share with fellow potato cachers.
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We will not share or post any of this information without your email permission.

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