Tips on planting and growing your own potatoes.
To grow potatoes, you need to start with a “seed” potato. A seed potato is simply a potato that is starting to grow and will develop into a new potato plant.
What Kind of Potatoes to Use
You can purchase “seed” potatoes from your garden center, or you can actually plant the potatoes in your pantry that have started growing sprouts. I have grown potatoes both ways.
Potatoes grow new plants from the original potato that you plant. You want the “seed potato” to be healthy and strong. There should be no soft spots, cracking, damage or signs that the potato many have any disease. Disease in your potato will make a diseased plant.
If you purchase “seed potatoes” from your garden store, they are certified to be disease-free. So if you are concerned about potato diseases, you may want to go ahead and purchase certified “seed” potatoes.
I normally plant potatoes from my organic potatoes that I have left over in the pantry.
What Do You Plant?
People tend to debate about whether you need to plant a whole potato, or whether you can cut the potato up into many pieces. Well, you don’t have to plant the whole potato. You can cut the potato into several pieces as long as there is at least one or two eyes on each piece. An “eye” is a sprouted bud.
So does it make a difference?
Well, generally speaking, the consensus is that the more eyes on a potato, the more potatoes you will get, but the potatoes will be smaller. If you start off with only one or two buds, you tend to get less potatoes, but the new ones will be bigger. That is something to keep in mind, depending upon what your goal is.
Preparing to Plant
If you choose to cut your potatoes into sections, do this a couple days before you plant. This allows the cut potato surface to dry up and harden. Doing this helps prevent the potato from rotting in the ground or from absorbing any disease that could be in the soil.
Some gardeners like to pre-sprout (called “chitting”) their potatoes before planting. This is something that you may want to do if your seed potatoes have already started growing large, pale sprouts. Those pale sprouts are generally very brittle and break off when you plant.
You want these sprouts to be strong and green, not brittle and white. The best thing to do is store them in an air-conditioned room (for summer) or a back porch in late winter/early spring where there is plenty of bright light. This allows those sprouts to grow strong and healthy before planting. This will take a couple weeks to happen, so plan ahead.
If you plan to cut your potatoes into pieces, do it after the sprouts have grown. Remember, you’ll need to give them a couple days to dry and harden on the cut surface.
Planting Your Potatoes
Potatoes should be planted in a full sun location. The soil should be loose and well draining, not a place where you have standing water. Additionally, do not plant your potatoes in a spot where you had other potatoes, tomatoes or eggplants planted the season previously. If you do, your potatoes can suffer from illnesses or pests carried over from those plants previously there. Practice crop rotation in your gardening.
The potatoes should be planted a foot apart, about 5-6 inches deep in the soil. Water them regularly.
As the plant begins to grow, you will want to “hill” it when it is about 6 inches tall. That means to take a hoe, shovel or rake and pull soil up on the base of the plant. This will help support the plant and will keep the root system covered. If the roots (and new tubers) get exposed to sunlight, they produce a chemical called solanine. Solanine not only makes your potatoes taste bitter, but it is a toxin that can make you sick. This is why you should never eat potatoes that have turned green.
As your plant grows, you want to “hill” it every couple of weeks to make sure that your new potatoes don’t get exposed to sunlight.
Your potato plants will begin to form flowers on the top of the lush plant. Once the plants die off, your harvest time has arrived.
Carefully use a small shovel or your hands to turn over the soil and search for the newly grown potatoes. If you use a garden fork, you may damage your potatoes, so go slow and be gentle.
Once you have gathered all of your potatoes, let them sit in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks. This allows their skins to cure and will make them last longer. Once they have cured, brush off any excess soil (do not wash) and store them in a cool, dry and dark location. They store best at 35-40 degrees. Only wash potatoes when you are about to use them,
Never store your potatoes with apples. Apples emit a gas called ethylene and this causes potatoes to spoil. Likewise, you should never store your potatoes with onions, because onions emit a similar gas with the same results. I always store my potatoes in the pantry, and the onions in a kitchen cabinet.