There is nothing like having fresh potatoes dug and cooked and on your dinner plate. If you have space, it is a crop that is well worth taking on and growing.
There are a few things to know, so read on to find out all you need about growing your next dinner.
Can You Plant a Potato?
You can plant a potato, but until it has shown signs of green sprouts coming from the eyes, nothing will happen.
This is easy to do, and you can even grow potatoes for a year-round harvest if you live in the right climate.
Potatoes are one of the most natural crops you can grow in your garden, and it is easy to grow a large number of varieties that you won’t find in the grocery.
What are Seed Potatoes?
It might be a strange question to ask, but ask it to any horticulturist “do potatoes have seeds?” and their answer, would have to be technically yes.
Once they are ready for harvest, potato plants flower and small fruits that contain potato seeds.
However, these are not what you grow from to get more potatoes, it is small pieces of whole potato tubers which have sprouted that you plant to grow new potatoes.
To stand the best chance of success, you should choose a variety of potato which suits the conditions where you live.
Grocery store potatoes are more than likely not the best choice to let go to seed and plant. You can also find store-bought varieties are often treated to prevent them from sprouting.
It is worth checking local garden centers or specialty online sites which carry a wide range of varieties. No matter which supplier you use, make sure they offer ‘certified’ seed potatoes which are ‘disease free.’
You should also buy seed potatoes early so you can make sure your variety is in stock, and you are ready to get going at the right time.
How to Plant Potatoes
Now you have your certified seed potatoes, or they are on order it is time to start getting prepared for planting.
The best soil will have been tilled in the previous November or December, this will have settled in time for planting toward the end of February.
Before early spring, you need to go through and remover all the weeds, and re-dig the site thoroughly. Now can be the best time to add compost and fertilizer.
This should be well dug in with your spading fork to a depth of six inches minimum. The looser the soil, the more potatoes like it.
You might be wondering where do potatoes grow the best in the garden. Any area which gets a full day of sun while having fertile and well-drained soil, hence the reason for lots of compost and fertilizer.
You might have an area in your garden which gives excellent results, but you should avoid growing for more than two years in a row to prevent the chance of disease.
If your soil is alkaline by nature, you can add Sulphur to the top of your potato ridge once they are planted.
This can help maximize your potato yield and help deter skin blemishes such as common scab which can be troublesome in high alkaline soils.
Chit Your Potatoes
If you are using earlies or second earlies seed tubers, these will benefit from ‘chitting’ before you plant them to encourage stronger root formation and faster growth. It can also lead to a heavier crop come harvest time.
This chitting is best done from late January to February, and you do this by setting them into seed trays, or an easier more cost-effective way is to use empty egg cartons.
Place your potatoes seeds in cool, bright and frost-free areas to allow them to sprout.
Once they begin, you will see the first signs of the chits forming at one end of your potato. This is what we call the ‘rose end.’
When you are at this stage, turn the potatoes with the rose end pointing upward and let the chits grow to 1 – 1 1/2 inches tall.
When they reach this height, rub off all but the three to four chits which look the strongest before you plant. This helps prevent having lots of smaller potatoes.
If you have larger seed potatoes, you can cut these in half or smaller portions to make them go further.
These pieces should be allowed to dry for up to four days before you head off into your garden and plant seed portions in your prepared potato area.
How to Plant Your Potatoes
Regional weather and soil conditions have a bearing on your planting times. The earliest you can start planting potatoes is immediately after or up to 2-weeks after the last spring frost.
You can plant earlier if you have been able to work the earth and the soil temperature has risen.
This should be prevented if there are signs of frost or the soil is overly wet.
As we are dealing with Mother Nature, you might find there is a ‘late’ spring, and if this happens, you can plant all the way through April depending on your location.
Some gardeners even plant all the way into June, and when doing this, they make use of containers or potato grow towers.
- Taking a hoe or a round pointed shovel, you need to dig a trench that is six inches wide and to a depth of eight inches. The bottom of which should taper to a width of three inches. This is where you can add more manure or compost to the bottom of each trench you have dug.
- Once all your trenches are prepared, place your seed potatoes, or a piece of a seed potato with the cut side down at a distance of twelve inches apart. When you have done this, cover your potatoes with 3-4 inches of loose soil.
- After sprouts begin to appear (12-16 days after planting) gently cover these with another three to four inches of soil but leave some of the plants exposed (a couple of inches). You should repeat this again after a few weeks until the earth forms a mound about five to six inches above ground level.
- When the potatoes plants have emerged, you should add a good layer of mulch or compost between the rows. This conserves moisture, cuts down on weeds and cools the soil.
Caring For Your Potatoes
Now you have finished planting seed potatoes, there are a few things you need to do to care for them until it is time to harvest the potatoes.
- Make sure no sunlight can fall on any of the tubers as they develop under the surface of the soil. This is what makes them go green.
- Any hilling you do should be early in the morning when the plants are at their tallest. As the day warms, the plants begin wilting.
- Potatoes need one to two inches of water per week. You need to make sure there is an even moisture from when the sprouts emerge until a few weeks after the plants blossom. Potatoes which are misshapen is a sign the plants were overwatered early on, and not enough as the potatoes began forming.
- The last hilling you should do is before the plants begin to bloom. This would be when the plant has reached a height of around six inches. Hoe up the soil around the base of the plant to cover all of the tubers along with giving the plant some extra support.
Pests and Potato Disease
There are a few things which can affect your potato harvest.
Potato scab – this was mentioned earlier. A high pH will cause this, and the addition of Sulphur can neutralize the soil away from alkaline to acidic.
Pests – the worst is Colorado potato beetles. These need to be hand-picked, but luckily some birds will help get rid of these pests. You can help control these before they mature, and are in their nymph stage.
You can sprinkle food grade Diatomaceous earth around your potato plants, and this is an excellent way to protect any plants from snails, beetle.
This method is one way to make sure you are still growing organic potatoes, but be careful because it can affect good insects which are beneficial to your vegetables.
Harvesting Your Potatoes
The harvesting time will vary depending on when you first planted your potatoes. This means your growing season could be earlier or later than merely the months on a calendar.
Tubers grow larger the longer they are left after plants have flowered. For ‘New Potatoes,’ these can be harvested as the plant flowers and will be around ten weeks from when you planted your seed potatoes.
The main crop variety can be harvested after you let your plant grow for another two weeks after the stems and leaves are withering.
This allows the skins to set. You should cut the stems above the soil line at this time to prevent blight.
If you are going for another harvest of potatoes. You should store your second-cropping potatoes in breathable storage to prevent rotting.
These can be planted in early August and no later than the end of the month. These late crops will be ready 10 – 11 weeks after planting. You can cut back the stems and pull your potatoes as you need them.
Later crops should be covered with straw or sacking material. There is the chance your potatoes are more prone to wireworm or slugs, but you should be able to harvest all the way to Christmas.
One final tip is to never store potatoes in polythene or plastic bags. This causes them to sweat and start to rot.