The art of growing Potatoes

watercolour by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of potato patch in the Aran Islands
my watercolour sketch of a potato patch on Inis Oírr

Time to sow the potatoes, I reckon. You’re not supposed to sow them until the frost is gone but here in Dublin, you just can’t tell – it’s been roasting hot one day and freezing cold the next… Climate change messing with my dinner.

But you know, there’s a real art to growing potatoes – and the real artists are out there on Inis Oírr (one of the Aran Islands). They must be well on the way at this stage – the lazy beds dug, the sand and the seaweed mixed in, the lovely green shoots pushing out of the light brown soil, bursting to greet the summer.

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of growing potatoes on Inis Oirr, Aran Islands

photo by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of growing potatoes on Inis Oirr, Aran Islands
… and you can see the bedrock – there’s less than a foot of soil!

I was really taken with the potato patches when I was over there, on an artist’s residency in Áras Éanna, some years ago. I’ve been growing my own fataí ever since.

But there’s an old Irish saying – Fataí a chuirtear i mí Bealtaine, nó nuair a bhíonns an chuach ag canadh, beidh siad mall – and that worries me (a bit). It means that potatoes that are planted in May, or while the cuckoo is calling, will be late!

Oh spuds, and recently I came across a description in the National Folklore Collection of UCD (dú, a description of how they used to grow potatoes in the 1930s, in Fearann an Choirce on Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands.

image from National Folklore Collection UCD
a page from the National Folklore Collection, UCD

This tells us that they put out red seaweed in November and then, they put out black seaweed in March – when they were planting the seed potatoes! 

Well, times have changed and we’ve only ourselves to blame. Come back to me in August and I’ll let you know how it all went.

Slán go fóill,


Grow your own potatoes



  1. Your watercolour is breathtaking, truly. Maybe, according to you, you are newly exploring this medium, but the results are of a seasoned professional. The subject matter is really hard and you nailed it. I love the misty distance against the live purply browns.

    Don’t worry too much about the late potatoes, in my short foray into group veg gardening last year, I learned that there are all kinds of varieties of potatoes from early to late. And also ones resistant to the blight (phytophthora) that affects so many of them here. (Also in Holland, potatoes are a mainstay crop). Our potatoes got infected anyway, but we were able to harvest most of them before it spread. good luck with the spuds. Oh here is a haiku I wrote once that ties into this post:

    grey skies, winter wind
    this newly sown field – brave shoots
    green against the snow

    Our weather’s been crazy here too. 29 C yesterday with brilliant sun, and today cold with rain. sigh. Summer was on a Tuesday this year. Sarah

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We’ve planted our potatoes late again this year as well. We plant ours in buckets which makes for smaller potatoes but they are easier to dig,
    The National Folklore Collection has to be one of the greatest online resources out there, We first started enjoying it a couple of years ago and as I’m sure you know you could just about spend a lifetime going through what’s already been published—which is just a fraction of the overall material.
    Good luck with your crop. 🙂


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