February is here and that means I have one thing on my mind and it isn’t Valentine’s Day; it’s POTATOES! I’m all about how to grow potatoes this month and my growing season is well under way already. Read on to find out how to grow potatoes in your garden.
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How To Grow Potatoes
Potatoes, spuds and taters are all the same thing and will grow from a peeling with an “eye” or a sprout on it.
English gardeners seem to be very particular about how to grow potatoes, indeed I’m reading through one of my go-to homesteading books: The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency The Classic Guide for Realists and Dreamers by John Seymour and there are 4.5 pages committed to growing potatoes!
Most English gardeners will tell you to chit your potatoes before planting. This just means that you get them to sprout before planting. It’s really easy to do take a look in the video below:
This sprouting causes faster growth after planting and an earlier harvest.
When To Plant Potatoes
Potatoes may be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the early spring. Potato plants will not begin to grow until the soil temperature has reached about 45 F or 7 C. Raised beds, containers like tires and pots are all great for growing potatoes or you can plant straight in the ground. The soil should be moist, but not waterlogged so avoid planting in heavy clay soils or that really wet bit of your garden, the potatoes will rot.
Potatoes can tolerate a light frost, but you should provide some frost protection like a floating row cover for the plants if you know that a hard, late season frost is coming.
How To Plant Potatoes
Planting a tater is really easy. Dig a trench 5 inches (13 cm) deep with, add some compost and put the potatoes in it with the end with the most sprouts (the rose end) facing up. Plant the potatoes 12 inches apart in the row.-
Cover these potatoes with 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) of soil and give them a water. As the plant grows but before it flowers, earth up your potatoes by drawing up soil around the plants with a hoe in the early morning or by adding compost or mulch to the growing bed.
Potatoes grow really easily in containers and here are a couple available on Amazon:
Containers are great to grow potatoes in if you are tight on space. These containers allow you to grow pounds of potatoes on a patio, courtyard garden or balcony.
If planting in a container you can use an old trash can or dustbin, barrel, bag of compost, old tires and anything else you think would work! You want to put some compost into the container then add in the potato and cover with compost. When the plant grow up but before they flower, add more compost on top and continue to do this until the plants are about 4 feet. Stacking tires work really well, placing a new tire on top and adding more compost.
It is important to keep the potatoes (the actual tubers) covered to prevent them from forming the toxic compound solanin as they turn green.
Pests and Diseases
There are a few common pets and diseases which are common in potatoes. Potato Blight is one of the most common and infamous. Blight is common in humid areas but spreads quickly.
Black patches appear on the leaves which then develop borders of a white powdery mildew. These are the spores of the disease which will spread to potatoes and other members of the same family like tomatoes. The affected foliage must be burnt, not added to the compost heap and the tubers left in the ground for 3 weeks. so prevent contaminating the potatoes. Ensuring that your potatoes are well covered when earthing up helps to be sure that the tubers themselves are not affected by the blight.
Some gardeners use Bordeaux mixture and spray this on the plant every two weeks during the hot and humid summer. Others plant disease resistant varieties or early varieties to mature before the heat and humidity of summer cause the disease to spread.
Colorado beetles hibernate deep in the soil and emerge early in the summer to reproduce and lay eggs in the potato foliage. The grubs of the Colorado beetle can decimate a crop and adults should be captured and dealt with early in the season to reduce the offspring.
Potato wart disease causes brown-black growths which cover the surface of the potato. In Europe, plant breeding has created immune varieties so it is less common in the UK and Europe. If it does occur in your garden, you should strive to only grow resistant varieties or do not grow potatoes on the land for 6 years in the hope that the disease dies out before you plant potatoes again.
Scab was the cause of some rather disappointing potato harvests by some of my friends:
Scab occurs in alkaline soils or soils which have been recently limed. It only matters if you are growing potatoes for sale as appearance means everything to the average consumer. You can overcome scabby spuds with plenty of well rotted compost and manure.
Root worms are usually a problem for monoculture crops grown in the same ground year on year. Practice crop rotation and try growing marigolds and tansy to deter the worms. If you get a bad infestation, you may have to avoid growing potatoes on the area for 10 years or more.
Potato Varieties To Grow
There are lots and lots of varieties of potatoes to grow and try. This year I’m growing Viking Purple, Dark Red Norland, Red Thumb Fingerling and Russets. Popular varieties to try include: Charlotte, Kennebec, Rose Gold and Rote Erstling.
When To Harvest Potatoes
Harvest potatoes when the haulms (foliage) dies back. Baby potatoes can be harvested 2-3 weeks after the plants have finished flowering by carefully digging around the plants to remove potatoes. Try to remove the biggest new potatoes and leave the smaller potatoes in place so they can continue to grow.
Potatoes that are going to be kept for storage should not be dug up until 2-3 weeks after the foliage dies back. Carefully dig up the potatoes with a garden fork or upturn the container.
If the weather is dry, allow the potatoes to sit outside unwashed for a couple of days to cure them. This curing step will help the potatoes keep better in storage. If the weather during harvest is unfavorable, cure the potatoes in a garage, or covered porch before storage.
How To Get The Best Out Of Your Potatoes
Some additional tips and tricks for growing potatoes:
- Potatoes love a slightly acidic soil of about pH 4.6. An alkaline soil (greater than pH 7) will often form scab on your potatoes making them rather unsightly.
- Potash is essential for good potato growth.
- Add well rotted manure or compost to the bed the autumn before planting.
- Cutting potatoes so an eye is present on each piece will grow and increase the number of plants you have available.
- To extend the harvest season, plant a second crop as late as June 15 and harvest the potatoes as late as possible.
What are your best varieties of potatoes to grow or your best growing tips? Let me know in the comments!
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