Growing Potatoes

What a treat, digging up the first home-grown potato of the season!  If you never grown potatoes at home, you won’t believe the difference between an aged store-bought potato, and a freshly dug delight!

Start with the best!  There is a wide variety of cultivars to choose from – heirlooms and new.  Ask experienced growers what they have had the best success with in your area, but also experiment a little to find your favorite potatoes.  Always buy from a reputable source and make sure they are potatoes that are certified disease free and virus free.  Give them a little squeeze to make sure they are not soft, but nice and solid.  We only plant organic, GMO-free potatoes as well.

Here’s a word that will make people give you a second look, “chitting”.  I almost feel a little naughty just saying it!  Chitting is a process that helps you gain a few weeks while the weather is still unsuitable for planting, by laying the tubers in seed trays lined with newspaper, with the buds facing upwards.  Keep the tubers in a cool frost-free place with good light conditions but out of direct light.  Sprouts will develop a short, healthy green and a sturdy 1″ long growth by planting time.

To cut or not to cut!  You may want your seed potatoes to go a long way.  More bang for your buck!  By slicing your tuber into sections can achieve this, but make sure you have an ‘eye’ in each section.  I only cut my seed potatoes into thirds, leaving 3-4 eyes per section.  After slicing the potato, let it sit out for at least 6 hours to heal over before planting.  By doing this, it lessens the chance of wire worms and soil borne diseases from entering the healthy tuber.  When the potato has a leathery dark look on the cut end, its time to plant!

While you can grow potatoes  in buckets, grow bags and other container type methods, we have found that our extreme hot environment potatoes are best grown in the ground in a bed that we haven’t grown potatoes in for the past two to three years.    Potatoes like a moisture-retentive soil that has had plenty of organic compost added and cultivated deeply.  I apply an organic acidic fertilizer called ‘Acid Mix‘ at the rate of 5-10 pounds per 100 square foot.   Potatoes do best in slightly acidic soils that are reasonably fertile, so this fertilizer is a win win, feeds and lowers the pH slightly.  Now comes the hard part…not really!  I simply push the seed potatoes into the ground with the eyes up, until 2-3″ of soil are covering them.  Once they plants have grown to about 8″, I begin to earth up with compost.  Mound the compost around the plant, leaving the top leaves to see the sun.  I do this a couple more times during the growing season to increase the yield grown off the stem.  Once the potato plants start to flower, it’s time to increase the water.  This is when the tubers start to swell.

After plants have flowered, it’s time to start harvesting the early crop, which generally takes 12-14 weeks.  New Potatoes!  These are easily found by scraping the compost away you adding during the growing season .  Use these tasty, thin-skinned morsels right away.   The main-crop of larger potatoes will take around 16-20 weeks to fully develop large tubers.  These are found under all that compost you used to earth up around the main stem and can be lifted with a digging fork.  Cure potatoes in the sunshine for 3-4 hours to harden the skin and help them keep longer.

Some varieties that we have had very good success with are All Red, Yukon Gold and All Blue.  Most fingerlings don’t do best in our area, but the one we have had the most success growing is the banana fingerling.

We’ve planted nasturtium flowers near the potato plants and it has helped  repelled the Colorado Potato Beetle.  Plus it looks pretty in the garden!

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