Planting Potatoes: A Guide to a Bountiful Harvest

Potatoes fresh from your own garden have an unbeatable taste. This guide will show you how to plant potatoes to ensure a bountiful summer harvest.

Timing is Everything

Seed potatoes can be planted in early spring when the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees F. Protect the new foliage from late frosts by using landscape fabric or an old sheet. Although damaged foliage may not kill the plant, it can limit the number of potatoes you’ll harvest. Ensure your potatoes receive full sun and are planted in well-drained soil. Don’t worry if your soil isn’t the best, as there are alternative growing techniques available.

The Right Potato

Instead of using potato flowers, it is easier and quicker to plant cut-up pieces or small-sized tubers known as “seed potatoes.” These can be obtained from local or online nurseries, or you can use the sprouting ones from your pantry.

A World of Possibilities

While grocery stores offer a limited variety of potatoes, growing your own opens up a vast array of options. From large to small, long to stubby, red to blue or yellow, there’s a potato to suit every taste. Garden centers often offer several types, but online sources provide even more varieties. With dozens of options, each falling into six shape and color categories, you can experiment with both tried-and-true heirlooms and new disease-resistant varieties.

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Getting the Texture Right

When choosing potatoes for cooking, it’s not just the appearance that matters. The interior texture, which depends on the water-to-starch ratio, determines how the potato should be cooked. Floury potatoes, with more starch than water, are perfect for baking, while waxy ones, with more water than starch, hold up well in salads or when roasted. All-purpose potatoes offer versatility and can be used in various cooking creations. When in doubt, refer to the catalog description of each variety to determine the potato’s texture.

Sprouting Potato

Preparing Seed Potatoes

When planting, whole potatoes can be used if they are the size of a golf ball or smaller. For larger potatoes, it’s best to cut them into pieces that each have 2 or 3 eyes. Let the pieces air-dry for a day or two to develop a callous that helps them resist diseases.

Giving Them a Head Start

If you want to increase your harvest, consider giving your potatoes a head start by presprouting, or “chitting,” them. Place the seed ends facing up in a spot that stays around 70 degrees F and receives indirect light. Once short, stubby sprouts appear in about a week or two, they are ready to be planted. Avoid waiting too long, as leggy sprouts can break off easily.

Chitting Potatoes

Planting with the Hilling Method

Hilling is an effective way to grow potatoes, whether in rows or just a few plants. Plant the seed potatoes sprout-side-up in a hole 3 to 4 inches deep, ensuring good contact with the soil. Cover them with 2 inches of compost or soil. As the stems grow taller, cover half of the stem with more soil. Repeat this process until the “hill” is about 12 inches tall. To preserve moisture, add a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch on top of the hill.

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Hilling Method Tips

  • Ensure your plants receive 1 to 2 inches of water each week to prevent drought stress.
  • Feed your plants every couple of weeks with an organic liquid plant food.
  • Avoid high-nitrogen foods that promote foliage growth over tuber development.
  • Keep the potatoes covered with soil to prevent the development of toxic green patches caused by sun exposure.

Harvesting Tips

Approximately two weeks after the plants bloom, carefully pull back some soil from the stem and snap off enough small potatoes for a meal. Then, push the soil back in place to allow the rest to continue growing. Once the foliage dies back, it is time to dig up the potatoes. Start near the edge of the hill and work towards the main stem using a spading fork. Remember to sift through the soil to find any potatoes that fell below ground.

Harvesting Potatoes

Planting in a Box or Bag

Growing potatoes in a box or bag eliminates the need for hilling. Use a large box with a minimum depth of 18 inches and keep the bottom intact for structural stability. Fill the box with compost or potting mix and plant the potatoes 4 to 6 inches deep. At the end of the season, simply tear or cut the box open, remove the potatoes, and compost the rest. Alternatively, you can use a bag of potting soil with drainage holes for easy planting.

Potatoes in a Box

Troubleshooting

While potatoes are generally worry-free for home gardeners, some problems may arise. Refer to the slideshow below to identify and address common potato issues.

Now that you have a step-by-step guide to planting potatoes, you can enjoy the satisfaction of harvesting your very own crop. So, get your hands dirty and experience the joy of growing your own potatoes!

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