Your vegetable garden just won’t be the same without try your hand at growing potatoes. It will take quite a bit of space in order to grow them. You may decide to grow them yourself after your have been to the grocery market and most of what you find are soft wrinkly potatoes. If you are lucky you might find one or two that are still firm. Now would be a good time to have that vegetable garden that includes potatoes.
If you have fertile, well drained soil and plenty of sun, potatoes will grow in it. In most areas of the country you can have two potato crops: early and late. The early crop is for summer harvest and use, the late crop is for fall harvest and storage for winter use. If you live in an area where you have frost free winters and your summers are very hot you will be planting only one crop which is planted in fall or early winter.
Potatoes are grown from the “eyes” of the tuber; these are the tiny depressions from which sprouts grow. These “eyes” or “seed” pieces, when planted, produce leafy vines above the ground and clusters of potatoes beneath the ground. Since store-bought potatoes are often treated with a chemical that prevents sprouting you are better off ordering disease-free seeds from a seed company, garden nursery, or farm supply center. This way you can rest assured that you will end up with a good crop of potatoes.
In preparing seed potatoes for planting, you want to cut them into 2-ounce pieces, each should look to be about a large walnut. Each piece must contain at least one eye. You need to cure the seed pieces by spreading them out until they are dry in a bright, airy place and their cut surfaces get hard. Some gardeners cut the pieces with the fungicide Captan in order to prevent rot, but Captan is poisonous; so you need to handle it with care and keep it away from children and pets.
Potatoes require acidic soil, tolerating soil with a pH as low as 5.2, but don’t plant them in areas that have been recently limed.
In order to prepare the soil for potatoes, you need to spread a 3- to 5-inch layer of well-rotted manure or compost over the area to be planted; this will enrich the soil and improve drainage. A 5-10-10 fertilizer should then be added at the rate of 1 pound per 10 foot row if you haven’t added compost or half a pound if you have. Mix thoroughly into the soil; direct contact with the fertilizer will injure the potato pieces.
As soon as the ground is workable, plant the pieces of seed in furrows that are 4 inches deep, 3 inches wide, and about 3 feet apart. Set the pieces 12 inches apart, making sure the eyes are facing upward, and cover with 3 inches of soil.
About three weeks after the seeds have been planted; sprouts will push up through the ground. As the vines grow, you want to mound up over them with compost, earth, leaves, or straw in order to keep the tubers covered. If the potatoes are exposed to sunlight they will turn green and develop a toxic substance called solanne.
You don’t need to fertilize the plants again during the growing period, but keep the soil around them loose and free of weeds. To do this, cultivate shallowly with a hoe because the tubers grow close to the surface.
You can start harvesting at around the same time the potato flowers bloom; this will be about seven to eight weeks after planting. Move away the earth at the base of the plant, and very carefully pick off some of the smaller potatoes. These are classified as the highly valued “new” potatoes, which you can boil and eat in their skins. Leave some of the small potatoes to grow to full size.
When you see that the plant foliage has begun to wither and die down, the potatoes are full-grown. At this time, dig the potatoes from the soil with a spading fork. You can leave the potatoes in the ground for a time after the foliage has died, but you should dig them up before the first heavy frost.
If you want to store potatoes, wash them and put them in a covered container, which is loosely ventilated, for a few hours. You never want to expose potatoes directly to sunlight, and store them in a dark, cool place, about 38-40 degrees F.