HOME-GROWN POTATOES ARE THE BEST THINGS ON EARTH, and fortunately, you don’t need an acre of land to achieve a substantial harvest. I grow mine in two 4’x8’ raised beds, and manage to collect a six- to nine-month supply of delicious tubers come fall. Here is a guide to buying, planting, and harvesting this versatile member of the Nightshade family:
Start with certified, disease-free “seed” potatoes, acquired from either catalog or farm-store. If you buy from a farm-store, try to select tubers which have already sprouted. Pre-sprouted potatoes can be harvested as much as two to three weeks earlier than their non-sprouted kin.
Only the smallest of seed potatoes should be planted whole. Cut large tubers into pieces. I cut mine so that each segment has two or three “eyes” – the little bumps from which sprouts eventually emerge, as illustrated above.
Next, either set the cut pieces out in the sun, or place them on a table or counter in a warm (70-degree), moderately lit room for two days. This extra step permits the cuts to callous, and consequently mitigates rot.
Me, planting ‘All Blue’ potatoes in a raised bed.
Planting. In loose, fertile soil, plant each potato segment, cut-side-down, in a six-inch-deep hole. Space each segment (or small, whole tuber) 12 inches apart on all sides. Cover with soil, and water well. Then apply a two-inch thickness of straw mulch to conserve moisture and smother weeds.
Hilling. To increase your yield, “hill” the potatoes. When vines reach six inches in height, cover all but their top two inches with soil or straw mulch. This will cause the seed-potato to make additional underground stems, or “stolons.” It is along these stolons that potatoes are produced.You can continue this hilling routine as long as you like (or until you run of out room, if you are growing potatoes in a raised bed).
Watering. Throughout the growing period, provide the growing vines with an inch of water each week. Decrease water at harvest time, as the vines turn yellow and begin to die back.
Darkness, Please. Potato tubers, like vampires, need to live in total darkness. In fact, they will turn green if exposed to light. And a green potato can cause sickness if consumed. Therefore it is essential to keep the tubers completely covered with soil or mulch.
When to Harvest. Two weeks after the vines have flowered (and how lovely those flowers are!), you can, if you wish, stick your hand into the soil or mulch to retrieve a few baby potatoes. I usually fight such temptation, however, and wait until the vines have died back, a sure sign the tubers have matured.
Storage. Since my potatoes are grown for storage, I leave them in the ground until cool weather arrives. Why? Because potatoes will only store well if they are placed somewhere cold, but not freezing. The closet in my mudroom doesn’t cool off until the outside temperatures plunges to 45° at night. So harvest time for me is usually a sunny day in late October.
After digging the tubers, I let them sit on top of raised beds for a few hours to dry, as illustrated. This brief drying-period toughens their skin, and prepares them for storage. Then I gently brush off any loose soil from the tubers, and place them in double thicknesses of paper bags.
Varieties. Look through any gardening catalog and you will find an infinite number of potato varieties. My own personal favorites are good storage-types: ‘Red Pontiac,’ white ‘Kennebec,’ white ‘Superior,’ creamy ‘Yukon Gold,’ and ‘All Blue.’ These delicious four produce considerable yields in the Northeast.
Don’t miss a beat at A Garden for the House…sign up for Kevin’s weekly newsletter!