Vegetable Garden: One Potato, Two Potato

Why Grow Potatoes?

Ahh, the beloved potato.  This starchy little turd-shaped tuber we all know and love is responsible for so much prosperity and sometimes misery.  Beginning in the ancient Andes region of South America and spreading to every corner of the modern world, the human-potato partnership has grown to blockbuster proportions over thousands of years.  And with good reason.  The potato is nutritious, is delicious, can be stored, and is easy to propagate.  Although it won’t be winning any beauty pageants (except for the purple and blue ones – they are AWESOME), just like so many things, its what’s on the inside that counts.

How do potatoes work?

Potatoes can be grown from seed, but if you want potatoes like the ones you just ate, you’ll propagate from the tubers.   New growth will sprout from little “eyes”, which are the buds that dot the spuds.  If you jam it in the ground, before long you’ll see new green growth popping out of the soil while new potatoes grow under the soil.  Pretty neat, huh?

How Do You Prepare Potatoes for Planting?

According to Seed Savers Exchange (the origin of these potatoes), they suggest you prepare your potatoes this way, “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”.  Potatoes sometimes have a mind of their own, you may find the ones you forgot about in your pantry have begun to sprout as well.  These are fine for cutting up and planting, too.

Seed Saver Exchange also states “A day or two before planting, use a clean, sharp knife to slice the larger seed potatoes into smaller pieces.  Each piece should be approximately 2 inches square, and must contain at least 1 or 2 eyes or buds.  Smaller potatoes may be planted whole – a good rule of thumb is to plant them whole if they are smaller than the size of a golf ball.  In the next day or so, your seed will form a thick callous over the cuts, which will help prevent it from rotting once planted”.

How do you plant them?

After the potatoes are cured, you dig a hole and stick them in it.  Then cover them up with about 4″ of soil and let nature take its course.  To keep the bending to a minimum, this year I invested in a bulb planter, which worked perfectly for making the 6-8″ holes spaced 12-15 inches apart as recommended.   If  you want to maximize your potato yield, as the potato tops grow, continue to mound dirt up around them.  This will encourage them to make more potatoes.  Or not, and see what you get if you just leave them alone.

How often do you water them?

Again, Seed Savers Exchange recommends you “keep your potato vines well watered throughout the summer, especially during the period when the plants are flowering and immediately following the flowering stage … 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.”

When do you harvest potatoes?

When your potatoes start to die back – that is to say scare you to death by turning yellow and looking sickly followed by flopping over – that is the time they are as ready as they are going to be for harvest.  Carefully dig them up, eat what you can right away, and leave the rest to cure in the garden for  2-3 days.  You can harvest earlier, “2-3 weeks after the plants have finished flowering”, says Seed Savers Exchange.  But if you are harvesting earlier for fresh eating, they also suggest you “remove the biggest new potatoes and leave the smaller ones in place to continue to grow”.

How do you store potatoes?

Find your self a cool, dark, place with good ventilation and your potatoes will keep a while.  You can also try canning them.

Potato Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do try fresh potatoes.  Trust me, it will change you.
  • Don’t eat potato leaves or any part of the potato above ground.  Those parts are poisonous.
  • Do keep your potatoes out of the light.  If they are in the light, they’ll turn green and start to sprout. That’s not good eats.
  • Don’t eat the green potato skin or sprouts either.  Again, it is poisonous.
  • Do experiment with different varieties.  There are so many, have some fun and try something you’ve never had before!
  • Do save your own potatoes and start your own.  Keep the best ones for planting, to have fun all over again with this amazing plant!

I hope you make friends with potatoes today.  Enjoy!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ella Wilson February 2, 2018 at 11:19 pm

From French fries to pounded and everything between, potatoes have turned into a staple in our day to day sustenance needs. Spare yourself some cash and become your own. Take the tips beneath and you will perceive how simple it can be.

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Mel July 16, 2013 at 5:48 am

Canning potatoes? That’s a new one for me. I might need to try that since we don’t have a good storage place.

I’m growing mine with the cage method this year (and regretting I didn’t use a bigger cage) so we should have lots of potatoes from a small space. Here’s the cage method in case you’re not familiar: http://www.wikihow.com/Grow-Potatoes-in-a-Wire-Cage

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Suburban Stone Age July 16, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Thanks for the link! I’m going to give potatoes in a cage a try too. It seems easy and a great way to get food from spaces without having to commit to a full-on raised bed. I’d love to hear how your project goes!

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