I’ve grown sweet potatoes plenty of times, and I even start my own slips. But I’d never tried growing regular potatoes before. Although I was a little late, I figured I’d still be able to get some decent seed potatoes.

Wrong! There’s been a run on seeds of all sorts—including seed potatoes.

But I’m not easily deterred. Technically, it’s possible to grow potatoes from some of those sold in grocery stores.

Of course, it isn’t ideal. To prolong shelf life, many potato packers treat spuds with a growth inhibitor like chlorpropham. Potatoes meant for our plates also could harbor soil-borne diseases—something I definitely don’t want to transfer to my garden.

Also, while nurseries sell myriad seed potato varieties—complete with short-, mid-, and long-season options—grocery stores simply don’t. So, from the potatoes’ flavor and look to their average number of days to maturity, I’d be at the mercy of whatever non-inhibited stock I could find.

With eyes wide open, I decided to experiment with some store-bought spuds anyway, and so can you.

Here’s what you need to know to start growing sweet potatoes.

First? Start with untreated potatoes. In my case, a friend gave me an old bag of certified organic potatoes that had already sprouted many robust eyes.

Rather than grow these directly in my garden, I put a few in a small bucket and several more in a large barrel. I planted them in a mix of compost, potting soil and filler material. (Since I didn’t have clean straw, I used a combination of shredded grocery bags and pine needles.)

As my potato vines grow, I’ll continue to cover them with more of this soil mixture. Once they reach the top of my containers and die back, I should be able to dump out the contents in order to harvest my mystery crop.

In a pinch, growing potatoes like this can work perfectly well. So far, I have some really healthy-looking potato plants. Provided they get full sun and regular watering, I just might end up with some decent potatoes in another couple of months.

I’ll keep you posted!

Susan Brackney is a freelance writer and author of the Insatiable Gardener’s Guide (Five Hearts Press, 2004) and Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet (Perigee Books, 2009).

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