Potatoes always do best in full sun. They are aggressively rooting plants, and we find that they will produce the best crop when planted in a light, loose, well-drained soil. Potatoes prefer a slightly acid soil with a PH of 5.0 to 7.0. Fortunately potatoes are very adaptable and will almost always produce a respectable crop, even when the soil conditions and growing seasons are less than perfect. Always keep your potato patch weed-free for best results. Potatoes should be rotated in the garden, never being grown in the same spot until there has been a 3-4 year absence of potatoes. If you are new at growing potatoes, ask around; chances are there are many older gardeners in your area who have years of gardening experience.
Potatoes may be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the early spring, but do keep soil temperatures in mind. Potato plants will not begin to grow until the soil temperature has reached 45 degrees F. The soil should be moist, but not water-logged. Potatoes can tolerate a light frost, but you should provide some frost protection for the plants if you know that a hard, late season freeze is coming. If you want to extend storage times, and have a long growing season, you can plant a second crop as late as June 15 and harvest the potatoes as late as possible.
Cutting Potatoes Before Planting
A week or two before your planting date, set your seed potatoes in an
area where they will be exposed to light and temperatures between 60-70
degrees F – this will begin the sprouting process. A day or two before
planting, use a sharp, clean knife to slice the larger seed potatoes
into smaller pieces. Each piece must contain at least 1 or 2 eyes or
buds and be no smaller than 1 inch in diameter. It is best to allow the
cut surfaces to dry to prevent rotting once planted. Smaller potatoes
may be planted whole – a good rule of thumb is to plant them whole if
they are smaller in size than a golf ball.
Planting in the Garden
We find that potatoes are best grown in rows. To begin with, dig
a trench that is 6-8 inches deep. Plant each piece of potato (cut side
down, with the eyes pointing up) every 12-15 inches, with the rows
spaced 3 feet apart. If your space is limited or if you would like to
grow only baby potatoes, you can decrease the
spacing between plants. To begin with only fill the trench in with
4 inches of soil. Let the plants start to grow and then continue to
fill in the trench and even mound the soil around the plants as they
continue to grow. Prior to planting, always make sure to cultivate the
soil one last time. This will remove any weeds and will loosen the soil
and allow the plants to become established more quickly.
Keep your potato vines well watered throughout the summer,
especially during the period when the plants are flowering and
immediately following the flowering stage. During this flowering period
the plants are creating their tubers and a steady water supply is
crucial to good crop outcome. Potatoes do well with 1-2 inches of water
or rain per week. When the foliage turns yellow and begins to die back,
discontinue watering. This will help start curing the potatoes for
Harvesting Your Potatoes
Baby potatoes typically can be harvested 2-3 weeks after the
plants have finished flowering. Gently dig around the plants to remove
potatoes for fresh eating, being careful not to be too intrusive. Try to
remove the biggest new potatoes and leave the smaller ones in place so
they can continue to grow. Only take what you need for immediate eating.
Homegrown new potatoes are a luxury and should be used the same day
that they are dug. Potatoes that are going to be kept for storage should
not be dug until 2-3 weeks after the foliage dies back. Carefully dig
potatoes with a sturdy fork and if the weather is dry, allow the
potatoes to lay in the field, unwashed, for 2-3 days. This curing step
allows the skins to mature and is essential for good storage. If the
weather during harvest is wet and rainy, allow the potatoes to cure in a
dry protected area like a garage or covered porch.
At Heritage Farm we are able to store potatoes well into the
spring in our underground root cellar. Try to find a storage area that
is well ventilated, dark, and cool. The ideal temperature is between 35
and 40 degrees F. Keep in mind that some varieties are better keepers
than others. Varieties like Red Gold and Rose Gold are best used in the
fall, and others like Carola and Russets are exceptional keepers.
Saving Seed Stock
Home gardeners can save seed for several generations. Save the
very best potatoes for planting. You may find that after several years
the size begins to decrease; this is typical. Potatoes are very
susceptible to viruses. If you are looking for maximum yields it is best
to start with fresh, USDA Certified Seed Stock every year.
We hope you enjoy your homegrown potatoes and please let us know how they perform.
The Staff at Seed Savers Exchange