Potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables to harvest. I’m not sure why because they do require some labor to dig and in most areas need to be harvested in the hottest part of the summer. The fact that you can’t see them (until dug) provide that “surprise” factor that only gardeners can appreciate. Questions like how many, how big, and will it be a big harvest are all queries that get answered once you go diggin’ for them.
Our family has grown potatoes since I was a young kid helping my dad in the garden. I was always looking for that one big potato that was larger than the rest of ‘em. Today I still look for that big one, but big is not always better. The smaller “new potatoes” are the prized ones when it comes to flavor and you can start “stealing” a few from the garden about the time the plants finish blooming.
This year I grew a cultivar called Yukon Gold. These potatoes have a gold colored center with a buttery-tasting waxy flesh. They taste great boiled or baked. They mature in about 90 – 100 days.
Contrary to some beliefs, potatoes are easy to grow and don’t require a large space. You can even grow them in containers or trash cans. Here's a short video I found on the subject.
Potatoes can tolerate a variety of soils, but prefer soil that’s loose and well drained since their roots grow deep. I like to mix in some peat moss to the planting area because not only does it help fluff up the soil a little, it adds some acidity to the soil that potato plants prefer. In addition, I add a little fertilizer that’s high in phosphorus (the 2nd number on the bag of fertilizer) prior to planting. Phosphorous is good for root crops like potatoes.
Potatoes grow best when planted in early spring. I plant mine about 3 weeks before my areas last frost date. A couple days prior to planting, cut the seed potatoes into pieces so that each piece has at least two eyes. Let the cut pieces sit for about two or three days so the raw edges can dry out. This reduces the risk of rotting in the ground prior to sprouting; or you can do as I do and plant the whole seed potato. From my experience the plants seem to come up a little quicker with more vigor and less chance of rotting when planting the whole seed potato.
There are a variety of ways to plant potatoes. I plant them in a shallow trench row 3-4 inches deep and about 10 – 12 inches apart, and cover them with about 2 inches of soil. I continue to rake soil around the base of the plant as they grow. Eventually this will form a mound or hill around the plant. Another option is to form a mound first and plant the potato 3-4” deep in the mound. I’ve done it both ways with no difference in the results.
Early harvest can begin soon after the potato plant blooms – just reach down a few inches from the base of the plant and scratch into the soil until you feel a potato. Grab what you need and fix the disturbed soil to protect the remaining potatoes and off you go. The rest of the potatoes can be harvested soon after the plants begin to fade and die in the summer.
Potatoes store for months if kept in a cool dark place away from the sun. I store mine in a old bushel basket in the corner of the garage. Check periodically for any rotten ones and throw them out as necessary.
Canning potatoes is another method of storing them. Here are instructions on how to do that – http://www.simplycanning.com/canning-potatoes.html
You can buy seed potatoes at your local garden center in late winter / early spring or if interested in getting a different variety than what’s offered locally, check out: http://www.potatogarden.com/
Potatoes are easy to grow, they store well, they're fun to harvest and taste great! What more could you ask for?