Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A guide to growing potatoes

We had a neighbor who planted his potatoes Easter weekend, this was a sense of pride for him. And throughout the summer when you saw him he was sure to bring up the fact that he has been eating potatoes for weeks. Most years I am lucky if I plant much before Memorial Day, but this year- well this year I was organized! Now I didn't get them planted Easter weekend, but the weekend after, so pretty close. One of the reasons to plant early is that you get ahead of the weeds and ahead of the Colorado potato bug. If you have planted potatoes before then you sure know the bug I am speaking of. If there is even a small chance that I can avoid picking and smashing this bug and it's different life cycle stages then I am all for it. 

Did you know that a potato has a top and a bottom? A few years ago while attending a gardening class I learned this and it just floored me. I had just been making a hole throwing them in and hoping that they grew. If you plant them upside down they will still grow it will just take a little longer for that sprout to twist up and out.

The bottom- this is where it was attached to the plant  (kind of like it's belly button)
This is the top- you can see the eye's are starting to sprout
Maybe I should back up a bit. Potatoes are not actually grown from seed like most plants, potatoes are what is called vegetatively propagated (I know what a scientist, right!). Basically they are grown from a potato (also called a tuber). The long and short of it is that you want to get certified seed potatoes, these are tubers that have been inspected and tested to make sure that they have a low incidence of disease. You can use your own potatoes from year to year, but 'they' say that you will want to freshen your stock. At this point I just buy them, I do know people who keep their own with success so it can be done. For the past 4 or 5 years I have been buying my seeds from Fedco, I also make sure that I buy organic. I tend to buy all organic seed, but I think potatoes for sure need to be organic. They are like sponges in the soil, soaking up whatever is offered to them (herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, and chemical fertilizers) and then you and your family ingest all that crap, so best to go organic!

This year I ordered 15 pounds of potatoes, it is said that one pound planted equals 10 pounds harvested. So, if I have a good year I could be digging up 150 pounds of potatoes! Before I planted I cut the bigger potatoes making sure each half had at least 1 eye, surrounded by enough potato- this is the new growths food support.

You can see the cut and the two eyes- surrounded by enough food to help the new plant start

After cutting the potatoes I laid them out on newspaper on a shelf in the garage to cure for a day. This is a huge topic how long to cure and whether cutting the potato is a good idea or not. Some say that when you cut the potato you are offering it up to insects and disease. Some also say to cure for several days or to dip the cut end in sulfur. I have been cutting and curing mine this way for several years, and have not had any problem.

The trenches- and a helper!

Just a look at a cut potato

A start of a shoot

The next day we made a few trenches and planted the potatoes a foot apart and covered them with 6 inches of dirt. The new plant will grow out of the seed and produce runners that the new potatoes will grow on. These new potatoes will grow above the seed that you planted so it is important to give them plenty of room. In about 3 weeks there should be enough growth that I will add more dirt, then in another couple weeks add more, this is called hilling. This gives those new shoots plenty of room to grow.

Plant 12 to 14 inches apart

Happy planting!

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