Let’s be honest. Potatoes are not the most exciting vegetable to grow. The green plants are nondescript for months and then they eventually yellow and die. It’s only when you begin to harvest them that potatoes take on a renewed interest.
I’ve found that kids love playing in the garden, especially when it’s time to harvest root crops. They love the surprise of digging in the soil to find a buried treasure of carrots and potatoes. In most areas of the country, it’s too early for the main potato harvest, but you can teach your kids about growing potatoes and show them how to “steal” a few spuds while the plants are actively growing.
First, explain that the potatoes we eat are actually modified stems growing underground. They form in the cool, dark, moist soil. Explain to your kids that hilling potatoes not only removes weeds that compete with the potato plants for water and nutrients, but also increases the amount of loose soil, which helps the potato spuds to form. Have your kids hill some potatoes and leave some other potatoes unhilled, and then compare the results later in the summer.
Also, if you want large spuds, make sure the soil stays evenly moist. Mulch between potato rows with a 3- to 4-inch-deep layer of straw, and again have kids compare mulched and unmulched beds in terms of overall spud production and size.
Finally, explain that by the time potatoes flower, some spuds have formed. You can steal a few small potatoes at this time for eating. These are called new potatoes and they are moist and tasty roasted or fried. Show how you can feel around under the plant with your hand to take a few spuds from each potato. Explain how if done carefully, it won’t harm the plant. Don’t take too many spuds or you will reduce the later harvest. Fill back the holes you create and water the plants well.