Gardeners have planted and grown potatoes a lot of ways. Over 33 years I’ve tried most of those ways. One thing I’ll tell you for sure, and that is —- it’s pretty hard to mess up. Still, you want to get the best yield you can.
When to Plant
Ideally I like to plant by March 15th, but I let the weather determine the date. Potatoes planted in cold damp soil in my garden just sit there and do nothing.
This year the Farmer’s Almanac calls for unseasonable mild weather in March, so I may end up getting at least an early variety planted during the first part of March after all.
(Watch for dandelions blooming all over your yard. That will be about the right time. Another gauge is 6 weeks before the last frost.)
The mid and late season varieties I’ve ordered will probably go in at the end of March. These will insure that I have potatoes a lot longer into summer and fall.
Dark of the Moon?
I get in a hurry and don’t always remember the age old thing of planting root crops when there is no moon. I’m going to remember it this year and try to do it. People who plant this way say that you get a better yield and I think that’s a pretty easy way to try for increased yield.
Make sure that whatever potatoes you get are certified disease free. If you’ve saved your own small potatoes to use as seed potatoes just make sure that you had no disease in your potatoes last season. Otherwise, you’ll have the disease again this year.
(In case you don’t know, seed potatoes are small potatoes with visible eyes used for planting.)
Home gardens are small so it may not be as critical as with large farms, but I think it’s a good principle to only plant the same vegetable in the same soil every 3rd year. So if you planted potatoes (or tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant that are in the same family) in a certain bed in 2010, don’t plant potatoes there again until 2013.
Sprouting before Planting
If my potatoes arrive in time I’ll let the eyes sprout and grow a bit before I plant them. This practice can be a real time saver and give your potatoes a jump start before they ever get into the soil.
Whole or Cut?
Years ago I use to cut my potatoes into pieces with an eye or two on each piece; let the cut flesh harden over for a day; and then plant. I found this to be totally unnecessary and get better yields when the entire seed potato is planted. (If you are using large left over potatoes you might want to cut them in half, but you don’t have to.)
I’ve grown potatoes in the fertile soil of the garden and in the average soil of a new border when I needed room.
Planting in a Garden Bed
My garden beds are about 3 feet across. I note the center and come forward 6 inches toward the edge and then plant potatoes one foot apart in a zigzag pattern the length of the bed. I push each potato down about 5 to 7 inches into the loose soil.
After planting I cover with a little straw to protect the soil. As the potato foliage emerges I start to mulch heavily, pulling the mulch right up to the leaves. I’ll continue this as they grow. By the time potatoes are producing, mulch will be 1 to 2 feet deep. (2 feet is preferable )
Planting Outside my Garden
I scatter the potatoes on the ground and cover with at least a foot of straw. As the foliage emerges I continue to add straw.
What the Mulch Does
- Potatoes form above the roots. They migrate towards the surface as they grow. When exposed to light they turn green and are said to be toxic. Thus, you have to keep covering them with more soil (called hilling) or add mulch. I find it easier to keep adding straw mulch.
- A thick mulch will definitely help keep the potato beetle away. They may eventually find the potatoes but the mulch buys you time. Every week that I don’t have any beetles is a joy and gives me more time. This is especially wonderful when I’m harvesting strawberries and blueberries and don’t want to have to spend anymore time in the garden.
- Potatoes like consistent moisture and the mulch helps keep the moisture at moderate levels.
The Colorado Potato Beetle
When the beetle finally does find your potatoes, you’ll need to check for adults, larvae and eggs everyday and kill them. (Wear garden gloves.) Its easier to do this while the number is small than to let them get out of control.
Several large larvae of the beetle can defoliate the potato plant in a day. Potatoes grow the most after bloom. That’s when defoliation can cut your yields considerably.
I get excited when the plants flower and try my best to wait another month before I go scrounging around for potatoes for dinner. I usually end up allowing myself at least one or two meals with new potatoes when the bloom first starts.
And by the way, if you forget what color potatoes you planted where — their flowers correspond to the color of the tuber. Pink flowers for red potatoes. Blue flowers for purple potatoes. White flowers for white and yellow potatoes.
About a month after flowering, I start harvesting for meals. That means I’ll harvest every other day or every third day.
Keep in mind that these early harvested potatoes are not fully mature and will not store well. If you want to store potatoes – wait until they are fully mature with a skin that cannot be rubbed off.
The potatoes will be finished about two weeks after the tops die back. All can be harvested then. I harvest only what I am going to use. The rest are left in the ground for late fall harvesting. (If I’m having problems with voles eating them, I’ll harvest earlier.)
Harvest gently to avoid damaging potatoes. Easy with that harvest tool. Potatoes can migrate as much as a foot away and you want to avoid spearing any if possible. Potatoes damaged during harvest need to be used right away.
Let them dry and gently brush off loose dirt. Store in a cool, dark, well ventilated place. Do NOT WASH until you’re ready to use them.
The taste of fresh, new potatoes right out the ground, cooked that evening with a bit of butter or olive oil and a sprinkle of parsley or rosemary just can’t be beat. It’s something you have to experience. When you do — you’ll never want to be without them — at least once during the year.
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