Gardening is a great activity for everyone. Although not everyone is born with a green thumb, which a little knowledge, anyone can become a gardener. Once you know the basics, it’s time to start working on growing something. Every type of plant has different requirements. Some need constant attention, while others do well with little to no help. Knowing exactly what each plant requires will make growing them a success. Potatoes are on the lower end of the maintenance spectrum. Today I will be sharing how to grow and store potatoes.
How to plant potatoes
The first step is deciding which variety of potato to grow. With over 100 varieties of potatoes, this is no easy task. It is important to know that not all varieties do well in all climates. Knowing this will narrow down your choices and increase the chance of a successful growing season. Russet and Golden potatoes are two of the more readily available varieties. You will be able to find them at nurseries in the spring.
Once you know the type of potato you plan to grow, it’s time to get the soil ready. It is best to grow potatoes in a loose soil. Hard, clumpy soil will not produce well. With some elbow grease and soil amendments, such as peat moss, you can create an ideal soil composition for potatoes. Ensure that any roots or rocks are removed as these will impede potatoes growth.
Depending on the size of your seed potatoes, you may need to cut them into pieces. Use a knife to cut them in several pieces, ensuring that each piece has at least two eyes. If your seed potatoes are on the smaller side, they can be planted whole.
To plant potatoes, dig down about 8 inches. Place the seed potato with the eyes pointing up. Be sure to leave about 12 inches in between potatoes. Rows should be approximately 2-3 feet apart. If you are limited on space or have a short growing season, then place the potatoes a bit closer to maximize space and time. Cover the potatoes with 3-4 inches worth of soil and gently pat the soil down. Once all of the potatoes are planted, give them a good watering.
Remember, despite being a root crop, potatoes grow up, so you want to start them deep to allow them room to grow.
Should your seed potatoes already have some growth on them, you have two options. The growth can be left, burying it with the potato. This works whether the growth is long or short. Alternatively, the growth can be broken off and the potato can be planted without it. I have done both ways and there was no difference in potato production.
Caring for potato plants
As mentioned above, potatoes are fairly low maintenance. Once the plant has sprouted and has a decent amount of growth on it, carefully place about 3-4 inches of soil around it. Be sure to leave a few inches of the plant above the soil. This process is known as hilling and can be done a couple of times over the growing season. Hilling encouraging the plants to produce and also prevents the potatoes from being exposed to the sun, which will turn them green. Should your growing season be shorter, hilling may not be the best option. Personally, I do not hill my potatoes because of a short growing season. Instead, I fully cover them with soil upon planting.
Regular watering is vital for potatoes. Watering them once a week is ideal. However, if you live in a drier climate, you may need to water them twice weekly.
Be sure to regularly weed your potatoes. Weeds nearby will steal nutrients from your potatoes.
Mulch can be added in between the rows to help retain moisture when watering.
Keep an eye out for diseases and pest. The potato beetle can easily wipe out a crop if not dealt with quickly.
How to harvest potatoes
Potatoes should be harvested once the plants have died off.
It is best to harvest your potatoes when the soil is slightly damp. Dry soil can be abrasive and this can damage the skins of the potatoes, leading them to rot prematurely. Remove any remains of the plant and gently dig down to find the potatoes. While a tool like a garden fork can be used, it can cause damage to the potatoes. To be on the safe side, dig up the potatoes by hand. Go through the soil twice, as this ensures that you don’t miss any potatoes.
Keep an eye out for the seed potato. If you planted the seed potato whole then it will be in among the potatoes. The seed potato will be much darker than those you are harvesting. It will also be partially rotten so take care when handling it.
Should you find any potatoes that are split, they can be set aside. These potatoes will not store well but they can be eaten within a few days of harvesting. Just be sure to cut around the split.
Green potatoes are not edible. Should there only be a small green spot on the potato, then treat is similar to a split potato, consuming it quickly.
How to store potatoes
Properly storing potatoes will increase their longevity.
Once your potatoes are harvested, place them in a cool, dry area for two weeks. This allows their skins to cure, which in turn means they will store longer. Once they are cured, brush any remaining soil from them. It is best to avoid washing potatoes before storing them. The excess moisture can lead them to rot prematurely.
With the potatoes fully cured, place them in a dark, cool but slightly humid area. Potatoes must be kept out of the light or they will turn green and become inedible. Check on the potatoes regularly to ensure that none are rotting or sprouting. Those that are starting to sprout should be eaten first.