How many crops turn into a late summer treasure hunt for the joy of our littlest gardeners (and older gardeners alike)? There are a few like carrots or beets, but the green plumage growing above ground gives their little hiding spots away, and the hunt is less than spectacular. Although pulling up these roots is fun, surely this cannot be truly called a treasure hunt.
But then there is the humble potato (or the sweet potato)...
Large chunks of sprouted potato simply pulled from the fridge, trimmed and placed into the ground will result in the best garden treasure hunt of the summer.
I love the surprised look on the faces of my children when we plant a piece of an ugly old and withered, sprouting potato into a bit of dirt. “Why?” they ask. “What will burying a piece of old potato do?” they ask. I just smile and tell them to continue planting. I give them a little “wait and see” and then move on to something else in the garden.
A couple of weeks later, the plant starts to grow some small shoots. The excitement builds and the kids that have seen this little gardening trick before start to ask when the plants will be full grown.
What they are really asking is when the treasure hunt will begin.
It is a long wait for the youngest of gardeners, and the youngest often forget what they planted in the first place, but the wait ends, the plants start to brown and die off, and then the treasure hunt begins!
Our first year, the kids were just two and three years old, yet it was the most magical garden experience of all. As the baskets filled with potatoes of all sizes, and the hunt continued for the better part of an hour, we knew that this little miracle of potato growing and garden treasure hunting would be a yearly experience.
How to Have your own Annual Garden Potato Treasure Hunt:
Potatoes are best grown from sprouting potatoes, so look in your fridge or potato bin for the most sprouting of all your older potatoes. If you do not have any at home already, garden centres and nurseries will sell a bag of seedling potatoes, generally hiding out with the onion and garlic sets.
Once you have the sprouting potatoes, take a knife and cut the potatoes up in pieces so that each piece has at least two sprouting eyes. The sprouts can be small, but try to ensure that they actually have sprouted.
Then, place in the potato fairly deep in the soil - about 2 inches - and cover with more soil. The potatoes can be set fairly close together, but I generally set them about 6 inches apart. Water.
Your potato plants will start to grow, and as they do, add soil to the top of the plants so you do not ever see the roots. The more soil you add, mounded around your potato plants, the more potatoes you will have! We add a shovel full of soil to our pots of planted potatoes every few weeks through the growing season.
When the plants die back, it is time to dig in and hunt for treasure! Just be sure not to use a big shovel. Loosen the soil with a small garden fork or your fingers if you can and then hunt with your hands. Shovels and other garden implements can harm the potatoes, but as we have learned, the great potato hunt is just more fun done with your hands!
Please not that green potatoes are not safe to eat. Also, if you find your plants have grown a lot of potatoes and you want to store them for longer, only lightly brush the dirt clumps off and store with a dirt layer on them. If you grew just enough for dinner, wash them up and enjoy your harvest!