Potatoes! What not to love about them? They store well, letting you enjoy them long after your garden has been put to bed for the winter. They’re fairly easy to grow once they’re established. Harvesting them is kind of like digging up buried treasure. And of course, growing your own potatoes lets you sample unusual varieties that you can’t find in the grocery store.
Growing your own potatoes can be a little tricky at first, though. You can’t just go pick up a 5-pound bag of spuds from the grocery store, cut ‘em up and then stick them in the ground. Nope – grocery store potatoes are often treated to reduce sprouting. Plus, they haven’t been grown for replanting, which involves careful isolation of the plants so they don’t pick up any diseases or viruses.
You want to look for certified seed potatoes. If you can, try to get them from a local source because a local retailer is more likely to have varieties that are ideal for your area. Mail-order taters are fine, too, but choose an early-maturing variety if you live in a hot and steamy area. Potato plants don’t really do well once the temperature is consistently over 90 degrees and temps over 95 may even cause your plants to keel over and die.
Once you’ve gotten your certified seed potatoes, have then take a little siesta in your fridge. You don’t want them to sprout before you’re ready.
Check the average last frost date in your area. You can contact your local extension office for this information, or find it here: noaa.gov
Potatoes take a couple of weeks to sprout, so you can put them into the ground two to three weeks before your last frost date. (Remember, if the weather is forecast to be especially cold and they’ve already sprouted, you can tuck them in under an old blanket).
A week before you plan on planting your potatoes, remove them from the cool confines of your fridge and relocate them to a sunny window. This will help wake them up from their little cold-temperature siesta.
Two days before planting, cut the seed potatoes into pieces. Each piece should have at least two eyes. Place the potato pieces back near your sunny window, or in a place that has good air circulation. At this point, your goal is to dry out your potato pieces slightly. This helps prevent them from rotting once you get them into the ground.
Prepare your planting bed by working the soil at least ten inches deep. Add your soil amendments, such as compost or rotted leaves, and work these in too. Avoid adding manure because it is said to cause unsightly rough patches on potato skins.
Dig furrows about 4 inches deep for your potato pieces. Plant your potato pieces 12 inches apart. There’s really no “right side up” when it comes to planting seed potatoes – nature will straighten things out. Cover your seed potatoes wth 2 inches of soil. Once sprouts emerge, fill in the furrow so that the entire bed is level.