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How to Grow Potatoes

Ah!! The versatile and lovable Potato. Spuds, or tubers, as they are affectionately nicknamed, are a regular at the dinner table, as well as breakfast. Plain by itself,  a potato does not have a strong, overpowering flavor. But the numerous ways we cook and serve it, and the wide variety of spices, herbs and sauces added to or put on it, makes for a tremendous number of delicious tastes.

Despite it's mealtime appeal, it is surprising that more home gardeners do not grow potatoes. Two or three hills do not take up an overly large amount of space. And, taters do not require a lot of maintenance. While you can buy, seed potatoes, the home gardener can use any potato that has been lying around the kitchen long enough to develop "eyes".

Old Fashioned Headache Remedy: Put sliced, raw potatoes on your forehead. (Let us how if it works for you!)


Types of Potatoes:

  • Idaho Potatoes - Famous for their quality as "Bakers"

  • White Potatoes - This is the basic and most popular potato. It is used for everything from mashed to french fries.

  • Red Potatoes - A less common variety with great taste!

  • Salt Potatoes - Don't forget these. They are small white potatoes which are popular at fall cookouts and clambakes.

Did you know? Potatoes were not part of the first Thanksgiving. Irish immigrants had not yet brought them to North America.

More Potato trivia: Potato chips were first made by Chef George Crum in Saratoga Springs, NY on August 24, 1853. Try our potato chip recipe.


Growing Potatoes:

Potatoes grow best in soft "muck" soil. Wherever mucklands can be found, you will find onion or potato farming. Potatoes will grow in many other soils. But, potato root development is enhanced, by adding lots of compost and loose material into the soil. When preparing your soil, add compost, straw and other amendments down three to six inches into your soil. See Compost Honeyhole

While potatoes like soft muckland, they do not like continuously wet soils. They will rot in these conditions.

Potatoes are grown from "Seed Potatoes". A seed potato, is not a seed. Rather, it is a potato that has developed one or more eyes. This potato eye is actually the spot where a root has yet to form on a potato. A potato can have several "eyes".  Prior to planting, a potato can be cut into several pieces, each with at least one potato eye. Seed Potatoes can be obtained in garden stores or seed catalogs, or in your kitchen cupboard. If there isn't any in your kitchen, ask around to friends and family.

Potatoes can be planted as early as two weeks before the last frost in your area. They are susceptible to frost, but take a couple weeks to root, and emerge from the soil.

The most common form of planting is in "hills". Prepare and loosen the soil where you will make the hill. Place two or three potato eyes on the ground. Cover or "hill" three to four inches of soil on top of the seed. Water thoroughly. Space center of hills a foot apart.

Growing Tip: Mix sulphur into the soil a week or two prior to planting. This will help avoid potato scab and rough skin.

A second and less common method, is to use furrows. Dig a trench six to eight inches deep. Fill 1/2 the depth of the trench with a mixture of compost, mulch, straw and garden soil. Sow the seed potato eyes in the trench every four to six inches. Cover three to four inches with loose garden soil and mulch.

Fertilize potato plants every two to four weeks. Fertilizers high in nitrogen will result in a leafy, green plant at the expense of root development. A good fertilizer for potatoes contain low levels of Nitrogen, and high levels of phosphorus. 6-24-24, or 8-24-24, are good fertilizers for potatoes.

As the plants grow, mound additional soil around the plants every week or two. Do not let the tubers or potatoes be exposed to sunlight. You can cover the soil around the plants with compost, mulch or even black plastic.

Important: Potatoes exposed to sunlight will turn green. They also produce a toxin that is poisonous to you. Discard any potato that is green.

Staking or caging potatoes - Plants grow tall, and will often fall over. Staking, caging or fencing the plants, will help to keep them healthier, and to produce bigger spuds.  It is important to do this early in the season. Pushing stakes or cages into the ground later in the season, will almost certainly go right through a few developing potatoes.

Now your can grow potatoes on your patio or deck.

Potato Bag Planter


Harvest:

Several weeks after the plant has developed, very carefully, dig down among the roots to see if the potatoes have developed large enough tubers to harvest. Be careful not to sever the main root from the plant to the new potato. Replace soil or mulch around the plant. Once they have become large enough for consumption, you can harvest as much as you need for your individual meals. After the plants have died off, dig out and around the entire plant. Be careful to dig our far enough that you do not slice into any potatoes while harvesting.

You need not hasten to dig out your potatoes after the plant has died. They will remain perfectly safe and healthy under your garden soil  for weeks. Insects and pests however, will continue to be a problem. You will have no respite from insects, moles or mice munching upon the harvest.

Again, discard any potatoes that are green in color.


Days to Maturity:

Early varieties 70 to 90 days, mid season varieties 90 to 120 days, late varieties 120 to 140 days.

Important Note: Potatoes that have been exposed to sunlight will develop a green skin which contains toxins that will make you sick. Discard any potatoes that are green.


Insects:

Potatoes are susceptible to a number of pests. Among the most common are potato maggots.

A homemade recipe: Rhubarb juice seems to work well for potato bugs, just boil the rhubarb and let it cool. Then, pour it and around the plants. 


Diseases of Potatoes:

Potatoes suffer from some of the same blight and mildew problems as tomatoes. Fungicides will help with fungus diseases. If the plant becomes too bushy, air circulation will be impaired and increase the chances of disease. Do not hesitate to thin a bushy plant to increase air circulation.

Plant Problems - Diagnosis, causes and cures for many common plant problems.


Hardiness:

Potatoes are quite susceptible to frost. While you can plant them in the ground prior to the last frost, make sure your timing is such that they do not sprout prior to the last frost date. Late season varieties are also susceptible to fall frost, even a mild one. While the plant will die back, the potato underneath the soil is safe from harm of frost or even freezes.


Potato "Lite":


Recipes and Cooking Potatoes:

May we suggest:


More Information:

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Pest Netting - Keep rabbits, deer, and other foraging animals out!

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