Cash in with urban potatoes

With an average pocket of potatoes selling for $12 to $15, if one is successful in this enterprise the reward is a great profit right in your backyard.Walking in most suburbs of Harare one will not miss the presence of bags of potatoes being grown in gardens. Many people are growing or are trying to grow potatoes. As with any new fad in Harare, people have adopted the idea with enthusiasm and reckless speed, but, alas, many are finding that it’s not an easy walk in the park, as their potato crop often fails to produce the much-loved and profitable tubers.

With an average pocket of potatoes selling for $12 to $15, if one is successful in this enterprise the reward is a great profit right in your backyard.

It’s an easy way of making money compared to the conventional way of growing potatoes on a large scale in a field. Growing potatoes in bags requires a minimum amount of labour for planting, watering and the occasional spraying.

The backyard garden can offer a controlled environment since most properties are enclosed in walls which act as a buffer for the crop from frost, diseases and pests.

However, many people have not been successful, due to a number of reasons, which we will now look at in detail.
Some gardeners dig soil from their gardens to fill the potato bags with little regard for its quality.

Any soil horizon consists of topsoil which normally ranges from 20-30cm and is usually the fertile portion of the soil whilst the underlying layers are very unproductive subsoils which are often dug up and assumed to be suitable.

To further worsen the situation they fail to add any organic matter which supplies a well-balanced source of nutrients as compared to simply adding a fertiliser.

A key determinant in the successful growing of potatoes is the selection of the correct variety. Failure to use a correct seed will reduce the yield significantly. Resist the temptation to buy seed potatoes from Mbare Musika, rather buy from registered suppliers for varieties such as Pimpernel, Amethyst or BPI for the summer crop and Up-to-date, Garnet or Jasper for the winter crop.

The summer crop can be planted in November and harvested before the rainy season ends while the first winter crop can be planted between February and April; it matures before frost sets in. The second winter crop is planted between late July and early August when the chances of severe frost have passed. It is possible to grow potatoes throughout the year, since it is possible to shift the bags to alternative protected sites to prevent frost damage.

To plant potatoes one must first allow the potato seed to sprout before planting, to encourage faster growth and a higher yield.
Place the potatoes in egg trays or seed trays in a cool, bright place but not in direct sunlight. When ready to plant the shoots should be at least 5mm to 15mm. Sprouting agents or hormones such as gibberellic acid can be purchased from your local farmers’ shop, this promotes quick sprouting.

Shoots should be protected from aphids with Malathion or any other suitable insecticide.
When planting potatoes in bags don’t plant just one seed, plant at least five seeds. Discard the small seeds and use any seed above 3cm in diameter.

To plant, fill the bag one third with good quality compost mixed with soil (1 part each) and place three sprouted seeds and cover with the mixture.

Add two more seed potatoes on top and cover. When the plants germinate add more soil as they grow until the bag is full.
Feed the crop with an organic liquid fertiliser fortnightly. At planting add 135g of compound D to each bag evenly distributed or mixed in the soil mixture. Water the bags after planting and when soil begins to dry out. Do not over water as the potatoes will rot.

The summer crop matures in 98 days whilst the winter crop matures in 100 to 120 days.

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