A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Still Going Strong!


A great year for blackberries! Yumm!
I'm writing on a beautiful, crisp autumn day. Gentle  rains began to fall last week breaking the long stretch of hot, dry weather. Lush summer greens are shifting into muted browns, golds and russet-colors signaling the end of another fertile garden season.

Despite the devastating setback of herbicide contamination to our potting soil mix (LINK and LINK), the gardens rebounded amazingly. Harvests have been averaging over 400 pounds/week since early August and, with the majority of our winter-squash still to go, and quite a few tomatoes still ripening, this average should extend through much of October.
Tomatoes thriving after initial set-back. A new variety: Amish Rose. Thanks to Steve Rose for his tomato-plant donations.
Cabbage was not affected by the herbicide and we grew a record amount! Chris, "going up for a shot!".
Our relationships with people and agencies continue to grow throughout our small town of Monroe (population 680). The main recipient of the garden's surplus produce (after feeding the coordinators, volunteers and other local donors) continues to be the South Benton Food Pantry (LINK). We are so grateful for our growing partnership with SBFP -- they have given us three, $500 grants and covered the cost of a supplemental refrigerator to handle the overflow of summer harvests. The director, Janeece Cook has also been refreshingly open to suggestions of increasing the number of whole, unprocessed foods offered by the Pantry.

Llyn with part of a week's harvest delivered to S. Benton Food Pantry.
We have also shared weekly harvests with students in a class offered by our local, award-winning Health Clinic (LINK) who are pioneering a "Food as Medicine" program promoting a Plant-Based diet to address the epidemics of diabetes, hypertension and obesity that effect both rural and urban communities alike.
Garlic- food as "medicine!
Adri-11 months - 2012.
Other occasional recipients of our produce have been Junction City's Local Aid, the Monroe Gleaners, the Senior Lunch Program of Monroe and Muddy Creek charter school where one of our younger garden members, Adri, - just started kindergarten (she's been coming to the gardens since she was first born!).
Adri and Bella - best garden buddies - 2017.

Bella and Adri digging up potatoes. When kids help grow and harvest their own food, they're more likely to eat it!
Our relationship with Oregon State University continues to thrive and deepen. On average we're bringing two groups of six-students each to the gardens for four-hours per term of "service-learning" (volunteer-work in the community). These visits  are a highlight of each season as it is refreshing to see the students' slow turning towards greater ecological consciousness coupled with a willingness to put these ideals into action. The students also get a huge amount of work done!

Christy and Chelsea - planting garlic - Sept. 2017.
Visiting OSU class on Sustainability - the "V" sign means: "Live long and volunteer often!" This class actually brought posters they'd made, mapping out our valley's local food-system.
Lucas and Savannah - OSU giving final presentation about the Ecological sustainability of our local food system. Other groups explored the Economic, and Social aspects of Sustainability
OSU students spreading wheat-straw as mulch.
Llyn and Haley sifting compost. Scarlet runner bean blossoms in foreground.

Shawn (r) was a service-learning student in 2016 and returned this summer (with sister Sheila) to continue to learn about gardening. He is always a big help - great thoroughness and attention to detail!
We're excited about a new relationship forming with the Monroe Grade School (kindergarten through 8th grade) that shares our back-fence property line. We've been approached by a 7th grade teacher who is teaching a unit on Sustainability. Students choose from a menu of actions  that help them live more Earth-friendly lives and will also join the Gardens in a morning of "service-learning"--spreading out through the town with rakes and recycled leaf-bags to collect as many leaves as they can to fill our compost bins and help cover our garden-beds for the winter.

Organic gardening requires A LOT of organic material for soil-fertility. Here, OSU students "turn" a compost pile composed of leaves, grass-clippings and garden "waste" (weeds and plants pulled up after harvest).
One, giant  'volunteer' squash plant grew out of our composted manure pile and produced all the squash pictured above! An inedible 'ghost pumpkin'  -- we'll be offering these squash to MGS students as a thank-you for raking leaves.
This year we have had a much smaller core-group of volunteers. This was a conscious decision on our part as we noticed in previous years that by having a weekly group of 4-6 "share-givers" that a) Chris and I often held off on doing certain projects so there'd be enough for them to do; b) 'staging' the projects and keeping everyone engaged on volunteer days was sometimes more tiring than actually doing the projects ourselves and c) with that many people coming at once, we rarely had time to visit with everyone and enjoy the social time that the gardens were meant to provide. We are grateful to everyone who has come volunteer this year but a special thank-you goes out to Jim and Cindy Kitchen - participants since 2010, who have come almost weekly this summer and continue to find ways of showing their support through little treats they squirrel away in our pantry; clothes, tools and housewares they offer to us to use or pass along and a general feeling of including us as members of their extended "family".
"Husky" Grandpa Jim - husking blue corn to be dried and ground. We're finally growing enough corn (and beans)  to share with our volunteers this year (and enough for Chris and I to eat year-round).
Adri and Grandma Cindy in the bean patch.
And finally a hearty welcome to our newest garden-member: Caleb Deweber, born late December 2016, he's finally accompanying his mom, Sabine who is in her third year of helping in the gardens. Welcome Caleb! (Thanks also to Sabine and her family for all the "goodies" they've been stocking up our pantry with - yumm!)
Caleb, already a big fan of tomatoes! "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face!"
Gratitude to other volunteers who have helped throughout this season: Eva, Rook, Christina, Shawn, Sheila, Judy-Mom, Uncle Craig, Manfred, Yvonne, Wanda, Becky - we appreciate you!

Sabine's parents - Manfred and Yvonne visited from Germany this year. We look forward to seeing you again next summer!



Christina and Rook weeding the beet-patch. We sure had some interesting discussions, didn't we?

Jim and Llyn - autumn tasks in the greenhouse. Llyn is setting out sunflower heads to dry for winter bird-seed.
A great year for artichokes - here is an artichoke left to go to seed. "...mmm, so fragrant! The bees love 'em!"










Friday, September 1, 2017

Saving Tomato Seeds

Striped German - Heirloom tomato
One of the missions of the Sharing Gardens is to educate people about the importance of seed-saving and to offer techniques to demystify this process. Today's blog covers the practical steps necessary for saving one of the home-gardener's favorite fruits: the tomato! If you're new to seed-saving tomatoes are good to start with because of their relative simplicity.

In order to save seeds that will "grow true" and produce fruit similar to the one you saved seeds from, you must start with an "heirloom" or "open-pollinated" (OP) variety (not hybrid). Hybrid seeds are artificially created by seed companies to produce plants with unique qualities (early ripening, bug resistance etc). The problem is that they don't "breed true". If you save seed from hybrids, next year's plants may or may not be what you want. If you wish to save seeds, choose seeds or starts that say "open pollinated", OP, heirloom or non-hybrid.
"Heirloom" tomatoes come in all types: here are large paste-tomatoes called "Long Toms"
OK, so lets say you have grown some beautiful heirloom tomatoes and you're ready to save seeds. If you have more than one plant to pick from, choose the plant that is healthiest, most robust, earliest to ripen and with the largest and/or best-tasting fruit. Then, pick one or two fruits that are the best examples of these same qualities.. If there are other people who harvest from your garden, put a twist-tie, or in some other way mark the fruit so no one picks it prematurely. We often use onion or citrus bags (plastic, stretchy netting) so we can actually cover the fruit, making it clear that it's not to be picked. Let the fruit come to fullest maturity possible. It's OK even if it starts to rot a little.

Black Krim (below) and Striped German
Here are two heirloom tomato varieties we saved for seed this year (right). We saved them as beautiful examples of color, juiciness and size. That's a Black Krim on the bottom and a Striped German on the top.

In saving seed, you wish to mimic nature's process. Have you ever noticed what happens to the tomatoes left in the garden after the first frost? They turn to a slimy mush, with the fruit eventually dissolving away from the seed. In the following year, robust little volunteers emerge from where the tomato rotted. The way we mimic this process: Remove the stem from your chosen tomato and put it in the blender with enough water to fill a quart jar. Whiz it in the blender, at a low speed, just long enough to separate seeds from fruit. Don't worry about the seeds. They have a protective gel that keeps the blades from harming them. Pour them into a wide-mouth glass jar. Be sure to swirl the blender as you pour the last liquid out so no seeds are left in the bottom. If you're processing more than one tomato variety in a row, rinse the blender well so you don't mix seed varieties. Label the jar so you remember the variety of seeds you're saving.

The next step is to leave them to "rot". To minimize fruit-flies secure a piece of cheese cloth over the opening with a rubber-band or canning-jar ring. Leave them in the open jar for 4-7 days. When it's warm outside, the process will go faster. Stir them once or twice a day with a chopstick to help separate the seed from the pulp. The pulp and non-viable seeds will form a layer at the top. The healthy seeds will sink to the bottom. Look for a nice scum to form on the top. Mold is OK. The picture on the left is of two varieties of tomato seeds in process. The ones on the right were just blended so no layers have formed. The ones on the left have been sitting a few days. The other picture shows the quality of the scum that has formed on the tomatoes once they are ready for the next step. Notice the bubbles which indicate a mild fermentation process.













The last step is to dry the seeds. Spoon out the scum and pour off most of the water. The viable seeds will have sunk to the bottom but be careful not to pour them out with the pulp/water. Add more water, allow to settle and continue to pour off excess flesh. Repeat this process till you've removed the majority of the flesh. Then pour the seeds through a fine-mesh strainer and rinse them in the strainer. Let them drip-dry and then tap them onto a piece of tin-foil, a jar-lid or other non-porous surface. We find that the lid to a plastic tub (like a yogurt container) works best as it's flexible and we can "pop" off the seeds after they've dried. Seeds will stick to paper towel or napkins. Transfer your label to the drying seeds and leave them to dry for a week or so. Be sure they are thoroughly dry before storage so they don't mold in the bag, envelope or jar.

Each seed-saver has his or her preference for containers to store seeds in. We use clean, small plastic bags or recycled plastic pill-bottles or other small jars. The most important thing is to keep your whole seed collection in a dry, dark environment with moderate temperatures, in air-tight containers. Avoid freezing or excessive heat. Stored well, tomato seeds can remain viable for many years.

Tomato seeds drying.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Herbicide Contamination Update

This is a great 'carrot-year' for us! Just in time to help loosen Bella (5) and Adri's (6) baby-teeth.

Hello Folks! The gardens are finally really thriving this year! We've put the 'herbicide contamination debacle' behind us and are thrilled to already be eating cucumbers, potatoes, summer squash, and tomatoes daily from the gardens. That's early for us! Both our local Food Pantries have begun receiving weekly deliveries of fresh, organic produce that, along with cucumbers and squash include cabbage, beets, carrots, kale, elephant garlic and lettuce.

We feel relatively confident that we have identified the source of the herbicide contamination that devastated so many of our seedlings this year. We had made our own potting-soil from a combination of composted horse-manure combined with last-year's compost (made primarily from leaves, grass-clippings, wheat-straw and vegetable scraps) and we weren't sure which ingredient was the cause of our problems. LINK to original article

We make our compost primarily from leaves, lawn clippings, wheat-straw and food-scraps.
We are reasonably certain that the horse manure was to blame. We have a friend who brings us his composted horse manure which we have used all throughout our gardens for several years with no ill effects. He has always been very careful to bring us loads from a pile that has sit fallow for many, many years. Coincidentally, the one time he brought us a load that was from a fresher pile was the load we used to mix up all our potting soil (at least 15, five-gallon buckets!).

Herbicide contamination of tomato.
The only places we've noticed the stunting effects of the herbicide were 1) in plants grown in the potting soil we made, 2) places where we dumped the potting soil in our greenhouses,  3) where we used that batch of manure to amend soil directly. None of the places that we have used the wheat straw as mulch, or the compost we made from it have shown signs of contamination  -- unless we also used the manure in those same spots.

Our last piece of evidence that supports our theory is that our friend used some of that less-composted manure on his tomato patch and all of his tomatoes are showing strong signs of contamination (and he didn't use any of our compost, or the wheat straw we thought might be the source).

It's becoming harder and harder to find clean sources of material to use as mulch, or to build our compost piles as more and more chemicals are being used to grow food, and showing up in the environment from other sources. This herbicide contamination was a real wake-up call for us!

Will we continue to use the horse manure from our friend? We've really meditated on this. It is our intention to demonstrate a "veganic" style of agriculture that uses no livestock manures, or commercial, concentrated fertilizers. It is important to us to use local materials - like leaves and grass-clippings to create soil-fertility. We don't eat meat of any kind and feel it's hypocritical to benefit from the by-products of an industry that is not sustainable and that we don't support philosophically. Recently we did turn down an offer for a load of goat-manure to be delivered to the gardens, for these reasons. We only used a 2-pound box of commercial fertilizer to get all our seedlings started this year, which is incredible when you realize how many hundreds of seedlings we started!

A pile of our finished compost - super-food for the gardens!
For now though, we're going to continue to accept Dave's donations of horse manure. Because he saw the effects of the contamination on his own plants, we're confident that he'll only bring us manure that is thoroughly composted. With the exception of the single contaminated load, Dave's been bringing us manure that's been composting for 20-years. We don't know how much nitrogen or other nutrients are left in it, but the composted manure has a beautiful consistency that really helps "fluff" our soil which has a high clay content. Maybe when Dave runs out of manure that's sit fallow for a long time, we'll wean ourselves off this source of soil-amendment.

Note: If you are using horse manure in your own gardens, be sure it has composted for a minimum of two years but the longer the better. Also, if the pile sits out in the rain and fresh manure is added on the top, it's possible that the rain can leach the chemicals down into the older material at the bottom. If in doubt, do not  add it to your garden, or use it to start seedlings until you test it. One website we visited recommended testing the manure/soil by planting peas or beans in it which are highly susceptible to contamination and will show signs of leaf-curling once the second set of leaves begin to form.

First ripe tomatoes - July 7th!
We're happy to report that, thanks to 'volunteer' tomato seedlings that we transplanted into our greenhouses, and Steve Rose's generous donation of surplus 'starts' that we have close to 100 tomato plants growing and the first Stupice plants began producing ripe fruit in early July - right around the normal time for our greenhouse plants!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Herbicide Contamination?

Sunflowers stunted by herbicide contamination.
Hi folks! It's been a long time since we posted anything new. We've been feeling challenged by a number of things and will write a more comprehensive post soon but wanted to get word out about a situation we had with many of the 'starts' we planted from seed this spring. Many of them were severely stunted or died from what appears to be herbicide contamination in our potting soil (which we made from combining last summer's compost and some composted horse manure).

We're posting this to our site in the hopes that people reading our posts about the deep mulch method of gardening and folks using grass clippings, animal manures, or hay or straw for mulch, or to build their compost piles will use discretion in acquiring those materials. Some herbicide chemicals can remain toxic for several years in plant materials and manure.

Herbicide-contaminated tomato plants
We always knew that farming chemicals can have damaging and long-lasting effects in the environment but didn't think we would be effected as we use no chemicals directly on our lawns or gardens.

It is ironic that, after championing the use of "local", organic materials to create garden fertility (instead of imported, concentrated fertilizers that are often mined and produced unsustainably) that we experienced such devastating results.

Of the hundreds of tomato and pepper seeds we started this year, not a single one was unaffected and all had to be thrown out!

If you are still using chemicals to fight weeds, we urge you to stop. Herbicide contamination is another reason to only eat organic foods as they minimize the use of these chemicals in our environment.

Here are links to two excellent articles we found on the topic:

(LINK) - Gardener Alert! Beware of Herbicide- Contaminated Compost and Manure

(LINK) - Herbicide Carryover in Hay, Manure, Compost, and Grass Clippings

We encourage you to do research of your own and share your comments below if you have relevant experiences.

Here are the details of our situation:

Right from the start, some of our seedlings did great but other varieties would do fine until they began putting on their second set of leaves and the leaves would begin curling in a distorted manner, never fully unfurling so the plants couldn't photosynthesize (get energy from the sun). We also noticed that some of the plants formed gold-colored nodules right below the soil-level where the roots begin to branch and on their root tips.

Onion starts did fine!
Some of our seedlings did fine:
  • cabbages and kales
  • cucumbers, squash and melons 
  • onions
  • artichokes
 But many of them did poorly or died altogether:
  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • peas, beans
  • lettuce
  • sunflowers, zinnias, marigolds
In many cases we started seeds three, and four times. It took us awhile to discover the likely source of our plant failures. For several months we thought our plants were suffering because it was so cool, wet and overcast; the Pacific NW - where we live, set records both for rainfall, and consecutive days of cloud-cover this past winter and spring. Plants sometimes develop a condition called "damping off" - (LINK) where they rot at the soil-level. 

Starting seedlings - before we knew our soil was contaminated.
After an on-line search, we found the articles listed above that outline the symptoms we were experiencing and they attributed the problems to soil contamination from a class of herbicides commonly used on golf-courses and other large public lawns, and on fields that are destined to be planted in grass-seed, livestock and horse-feed, and grain crops (such as wheat). These herbicides target broad-leaved weeds but do not kill grasses and grains. We haven't had our soil tested so we can't be sure but we feel it is likely that the wheat-straw we purchased to mulch our garden and build up our compost-piles might have been tainted with one of the products listed in the article (Clopyralid and aminopyralid, or something similar). It is also possible that one of the loads of composted horse manure that was donated had not been composted long enough and still contained herbicide residue.

OSU students sifting compost and manure to make potting soil.
Compost Contamination: This is the first year in the Sharing Gardens that we made our own potting soil. We've always purchased it in the past. For many years Chris has had experience making his own potting mix (prior to the Sharing Gardens) and always had good success with it. Last summer (2016) we made a huge amount of compost. It was made primarily from grass-clippings, wheat straw and leaves. For the first time since starting the gardens, we had enough excess compost after planting Fall crops, to save it for making potting soil.

Our recipe:
  •  2-parts of our compost
  •  1-part of composted horse manure/sawdust and 
  •  a small amount of coffee grounds.
We don't know if the contamination came from manure that wasn't composted long enough or the wheat-straw we used to build our compost pilesl. We've checked with all the people who have donated large quantities of grass-clippings and none of them used any herbicides last year on their lawns so we feel confident that grass-clippings were not the source.

The reason we think it was our potting soil that was contaminated is that none of our seeds planted directly in the ground showed any of these same signs of distress.

Compost bins(left) and grass-piles (center) for garden fertility.
Note:
  • Do not use contaminated compost or manures to make "compost tea" if you are going to be pouring it on any of the families of plants listed above. In addition, potatoes (in the same family of plants as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and tomatillos - solanacea should not be grown in contaminated soil or had tea applications. Lettuce may also be susceptible).
  • Some chemicals can remain active in the soil. compost or manure for two years or more.
  • They can harm vegetable and flower plants in concentrations as low as 3 parts-per-million!
  • While it is unlikely that enough of these chemicals would be present in lawn clippings from a residential source to contaminate your compost or mulch-pile, there are several herbicides available from garden-stores that do contain aminopyralid or clopyralid.
      -- Here is a list of herbicides and their active ingredients organized by trade names.

      -- Here is an alphabetical list of herbicidal active ingredients, with trade names following.
We encourage you to do research of your own and share your comments below if you have relevant experiences.

Carrots (front) and nasturtiums (back) are thriving this year!
Once we discovered the source of our plants' distress, we bought some regular potting mix and have successfully started lettuce and most of our flowers. It's too late to start peppers and tomatoes.  The only pepper plants we have are ones we purchased at a nursery; unfortunately we won't have many peppers to share this year.

Steve Rose, in a previous year, with tomato plants he donated to the Sharing Gardens and Monroe's Food Pantry.
We're grateful to our friend Steve Rose for dropping off dozens of tomato plants he started from seed. If not for him and the tomatoes that "volunteered" in our greenhouses from fruits that fell on the ground last fall and sprouted this spring, we'd have no tomatoes. We've managed to dig up and transplant almost eighty tomato seedlings and even have had a few dozen to give away. Thank goodness for volunteers! (This is another great reason for only growing heirloom/open-pollinated seeds: if we had grown hybrid varieties of tomatoes, the "volunteers" could not be counted on to "grow true".)

Thank goodness for kale! Delicious, nutritious and unaffected by herbicide contamination.
On a happier note, it's now mid-June and we have most of the gardens planted. It's been a challenging winter and spring but we're feeling optimistic for the Summer and Fall to be able to fulfill our mission of providing bounteous harvests of vegetables to our local food charities.

LINK to Herbicide Contamination Update

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mason Bees - The Friendly Pollinators

Mason Bees appear like a big house fly with a greenish black shine to them.
Did you know that Mason Bees (Osmia lignaria) are one of the most common hole-nesting bees? They are wonderful pollinators, especially for apples and pears. Researchers claim they can be up to 90% more efficient at pollinating than honeybees due to the fact that Mason Bees will forage in light rain and at cooler temperatures than honeybees and other pollinators. If you are worried or concerned about getting stung then this hard working little Mason Bee may be just what you and your flowers and vegetable gardens are looking for. Mason Bees are not aggressive since they are a solitary bee and are not defending a queen they are considered quite docile. 
Linda's nesting boxes are hung under the eves, on the southeast side of a shed so they get sun and are protected from prevailing winds/rains. Insets show other styles of nesting boxes.
Nesting boxes for Mason Bees: In the photos you can see that I have quite a few nesting boxes. My nesting boxes are hanging under the eaves of my pump house facing towards the southeast so they can be warmed by the early morning sun and protected from direct rain.  Mason bees are easy to care for. You can make new nesting boxes by using a drill press and a 5/16 bit and blocks of UNTREATED wood. You may also purchase nesting straws. I have found the straws at the WildBirdsUnlimited store in Corvallis. For right now I have placed 2 new nesting boxes and a package of straws for the ladies to use as new homes for their eggs. As these begin to fill up I will continue making new boxes. Last year the girls were so prolific that I had to make several new nest blocks 3 different times.
Chris hangs nesting boxes at Crowson/Monroe garden
Mason Bee life cycle: This year, my Mason Bees began emerging in early April. The males hatch out first once our temperatures get above 55 degrees for 3 days in a row. The females seem to understand that it is important to lay female eggs at the back of the holes and lay the male egg at the front of each hole. This assures the survival of this species as it only takes one male to mate with several female Mason Bees. Once the weather begins to warm and the males emerge they then wait around for several days for the females to chew through their cocoon and then chew through the mud wall that divides each egg cell until they reach the end of the nesting hole and crawl out to live their short productive life in our wonderful Willamette Valley. The males then fly around chasing the females in a mating dance. Once the males have mated their job is complete and they die. The females immediately begin gathering pollen and laying eggs. They do not excavate holes but look around their environment for a 4-6 inch-long space that is approximately 5/16 of an inch in diameter. They are often seen crawling up under house shingles. No need to worry though. They do not damage your siding but are merely looking for a safe, dry place to lay their eggs. After she has gathered pollen she will return to the nesting tubes/boxes, fly into the holes and turn circles inside which helps the gathered pollen fall off her body as she wiggles her way to the end of the tube. 
Mason Bee larvae with pollen-ball for larval feeding.
There she will lay her tiny egg and put a pollen ball on top of that. She will leave about a 1 inch space and she then make a 1/4 inch mud plug to wall off that egg, hence the name "Mason" Bee. For the next 8-10 weeks these busy ladies continue gathering pollen and nectar. Sometime towards the end of June their life's work is over and they die. During the summer months the eggs develop into larvae. The larvae feeds on the pollen and nectar and develop into pupae. The Mason Bee pupae develop into bees protected inside a cocoon. They hibernate over the winter and emerge sometime towards the end of March or early April to start this marvelous life cycle over again. Click here for excellent pictures of Mason Bee life cycle.
HappBee gardening. Linda Zielinski
Linda Zielinski is an avid Mason Bee 'farmer' who lives in Philomath, Oregon. She generously provided the "Sharing Gardens" with a starter house of bees which we hope will multiply so we can spread them around the valley and help other gardeners get them established. Check back next February if you're interested in getting a starter house of Mason Bees for next spring. Thank you, Linda, for writing this article about the bees for us to post on our site.

Note: This was originally published on this site, April 13, 2012. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Do I Need to Buy Seed Potatoes or Can I Just Grow Potatoes from the Grocery Store?

Buying seed potatoes from a nursery catalog can be pretty pricey and its not really necessary. The only real advantages are that they sort them for uniformity of size (not a big deal), you know that they're ready for planting (see the discussion about dormancy below) and you can find some exotic varieties. We just use potatoes we saved from last year's harvest or buy them straight out of the produce section at the grocery store.   

The term "seed-potato" can be misleading. Potatoes do, on occasion produce seeds, but growers do not grow their crops from them. Instead, they grow them from small sprouting potatoes. Any potato, with sprouting eyes, that's at least the size of a chicken egg has the means to yield up to five pounds of fresh potatoes (Generally speaking, the smaller varieties of potatoes grow to maturity faster but yield less harvest.)

These green spheres in Chris' hand contain actual potato seeds but rarely do people grow potatoes from seeds
Potatoes are unique in that their growth cycle is not determined by length of day (as so many other plants are.) Potatoes have an internal clock that requires them to be dormant for a prescribed amount of time--different lengths for different varieties of potatoes. They won't sprout until their dormancy cycle has been reached. This is why some potatoes are better storage potatoes, because they won't start sprouting before you've eaten all the ones you want to eat.

When we want to plant more potatoes than we've saved from the previous year's harvest, we start looking for seed potatoes at the grocery store in late January (mid-winter in northern latitudes) and continue to buy them through till mid-spring. Many of the potatoes that have been in storage for the winter start to sprout in the warehouses at that time and you can get them for better prices. When selecting potatoes to plant, look for ones that already show signs of budding/sprouting from the eyes as this way you know they are viable for growing. Choose the variety you like best. Potatoes do not "cross pollinate". This means that, if you plant a russet, by golly you'll get a russet. (Note: one of our favorites is the Yukon Gold. They last a long time in winter storage and we like the flavor/texture too.)

Ideally, seed potatoes should be about the size of a chicken-egg. Larger potatoes can be cut and skinned over before planting. be sure you have at least three "eyes" per potato.
Potatoes need 70-90 days from planting to maturity so count backwards from your first frost date, or when you wish to begin eating your harvest! The exotic potatoes that come into the markets, and the small, egg-sized, common varieties are usually quite fresh; as they don't keep a long time in storage. They too won't be ready for planting till they naturally go through their dormancy cycle—four to six months. We haven't tried this but I read that you can hasten the dormancy by storing the potatoes in a cool, moist place for a few months and then putting them in a dryer, warmer (but still dark) area.
It is important that you buy organic potatoes because many of the commercially grown ones are sprayed with a "sprout-retardant" which gives them a longer shelf-life and this can delay their sprouting until the potato actually rots.

If the potatoes you have are only just starting to sprout and the buds aren't very long, keep them in the dark to encourage more sprouting. Once the buds are at least 3/4 of an inch long, it's time to "chit" them. 
How many to get? Each plant will take up about 12 - 16 inches of row space. If stored well, they will last for up to six months before starting to sprout again. Figure on 3-5 pounds of yield per potato you plant.  

What size should you get? Ideally you will find them that are about the size of a chicken's egg. Larger potatoes can be cut and allowed to skin over so they won't rot when you plant them.

What if they aren't already sprouting? If you can find potatoes that already have "eyes" that are budding, so much the better. This way you know they are viable for planting. As long as you buy organic potatoes (that have not been sprayed with sprout retardant), and allow 3-4 months time for them to begin to sprout, they do not already need to be sprouting.

When is it time to plant potatoes? Here in the S. Willamette Valley, unless you have raised beds, you need to wait to plant them till the ground dries out a bit. We planted them in early-April one year, when things were especially cool and wet and they just rotted in the ground. Depending on the variety you plant, they take 13 to 17 weeks to ripen. You may wish to plant them in succession so you'll have some potatoes to eat fresh and, the later harvests will last longer through the winter.

If you buy them in a plastic bag, transfer them into a cardboard box or paper sack so they don't rot before you get to them. Keep them in a cool, dark place, with good air circulation until they sprout. Layering them in a tub with leaves or straw, or sawdust works too. Just be sure to keep them from freezing.
Potatoes stored in damp layers of damp leaves. These had already begun to sprout and this storage protected their sprouts from breaking off, or the potatoes from drying out until we had the right conditions for planting.