Searching for a way to stretch your food dollars by adding an easy grower to your garden? In addition to being tasty and healthful, potatoes are easy to grow and store, making them a hit with those just starting out. And you will be on your way to self-sufficiency.
Seed potatoes are really just a small (or new) potato harvested young. Each “seed” should have at least one, but preferably two or three “eyes” or buds. This is where each new potato shoot begins.
Keep your seed potatoes in the refrigerator until you cut them to plant them. Here are the cutting instructions (below). Make sure each cut piece has a minimum of 1 or more ‘eyes’.
If you plant on ground level, plant potatoes in rows about 2 feet apart, placing each ‘seed’ potato 12 -16 inches apart. Mix in plenty of peat moss to help with acidity since potatoes like a 6.0-6.5 pH. Peat moss is available in big, light weight compressed bales at nurseries or a hardware like Home Depot. It will help loosen the soil, too.
The lighter the soil (not packed or clay), the more freely and the bigger the potatoes will grow. They will also be cleaner. A 4′ x 8′ raised bed is ideal since there is never any compaction from equipment. See my post on building a raised 4′ x8′ box here.
Also, something we have found to almost double your yield is Garden’s Alive’s Root Crops Alive! Wait to apply this granular until plants emerge. To read more, click on the photo to the left. It can be used on beets, sweet potatoes, turnips, and other roots.
In a 4′ x 4′ box, ( 48″ x 48″), you can plant 25 cut pieces (5 x 5) in a grid 8″ apart. Plant them 6 inch deep. Place it with the cut side down so the ‘eyes’ are facing up. Cover them over with dirt. This will give you 25 plants with many potatoes under each plant at harvest.
It takes about 2 weeks for the sprouts to reach up to where they peek out of the soil. As the sun warms the soil, the sprouts will seek light. They need full sunlight to do their best.
Be patient… With green healthy leaves on top you can be sure the your potatoes are growing underneath. When your plant flowers (some varieties don’t) that’s when the tubers really start to swell up and that’s when you’ll want to give extra water and feed once or twice with a liquid manure such as fish emulsion.
Potatoes will sometimes rise to the soil surface as they develop. If the potato skin is exposed to the sun, it will turn green with a toxin called solanine.
Push some additional soil or packed, wet leaves around the plants to form a hill, thus keeping the spuds covered. The leaves also help retain moisture for less watering.
Two of my favorite varieties are Yukon Gold and Red Pontiac. Both are extra good keepers, and Red Pontiac does well in heavy soils. Pontiac Red also makes the best “new” potatoes. Lightly boil them, and add butter, salt and pepper, and parsley. Yum!
If you’ll be storing most of the late potatoes, choose a warm, dry day after a period of little or no rain. Cloudy days are even better, since too much light turns newly dug potatoes green.
Either a 5-6 pronged potato fork or a pointed shovel does a good job of digging, but stay way out at the edge and move closer until you find spuds. You can dig deep enough next to a hill to raise the entire hill at one time. If you injure a few, don’t fret: just put them aside for the evening meal; they won’t keep. Be gentle. Each bruise lowers the storage quality.
Leave the potatoes outdoors for an hour or so to dry. During that time most of the soil stuck on them should also drop off. Don’t wash the potatoes; it’s hard to get them really dry afterward. You may use a soft brush.
Put the potatoes in the dark after they’ve dried in the open for a short time.
Move the potatoes to a much cooler, dark place for winter storage. Experts recommend 35 to 40 degree F with moderate humidity and ventilation. If these standards are met in your basement or root cellar, you can expect mature potatoes to store for up to eight months. Higher temperatures will mean quicker sprouting and shriveling. Don’t stack them higher than 6-8″ in a bin with open sides.
When potatoes are exposed to light, their skins start to turn green — a sign that the toxic substance called solanine is developing. This occurs if potatoes aren’t fully covered by soil while they’re growing, if you leave them in the sun for too long after the harvest, or if they aren’t stored in complete darkness. Potatoes you buy from the supermarket also turn green if they aren’t stored in a dark place. Peeling or cutting away green sections before cooking will eliminates the problem. Just don’t feed green peels to the chickens!
You can buy potatoes at the market to plant, but they must be organic. Organic potatoes don’t get sprayed with sprout inhibitor. They can be cut into pieces with a few eyes each and planted the same way. The only negative to this is that the variety may not store as well as one developed for over-winter storage.
You can become more independent of the grocers, and the rewards are satisfying as you pass these skills on to your children.