Potatoes for dummies
Potatoes are probably the easiest vegetable to grow. At least they are for me, and can be for you too. I’ve been growing them for about 3 years and have had continuous good harvests. Prior to this I have had almost no
gardening experience. Potatoes don’t require much maintenance like weeding or watering. In fact you can get almost as good size spuds from a weed covered patch as from a cleanly weeded area.
They are high yield, high calorie, keep well and are like money in the bank. Having a few crates full is knowing you can provide filling meals for a long time.
First you’ll need some seed potatoes and the springtime. There are basically 2 types of spuds, the long ones, and the round ones. I’ll leave that up to you. I buy whatever seed potatoes are cheap or on sale.
You’ll need to turn over or till the soil you intend to plant. You can’t just plant into holes dug into hard earth. Use a spade, tiller, hoe, whatever is at your disposal.
If possible fertilize with some chicken or cow manure before planting your seed potatoes. Just remember chicken manure is very strong, just a sprinkling near your intended seed hole will suffice. With cow manure you can be more liberal. If you can’t fertilize, skip it.
If you have very wet springs or summers you’ll want to raise up your planting area by making a furrow or row, make a raised bed, or make a pile of soil that rises about 1 foot over the surrounding soil. If your spring and or summer is not very wet, just cultivate (turn the soil) and break up hard clods. Spuds that are grown in too wet soil will balloon up and not be edible. By too wet I mean standing water that touches the plant itself for more than 2 days many times during the season.
Cut your seed potatoes into quarters and try to make sure that each quarter has at least one “eye” on it. Dig a small hole about 4-6 inches deep with a hand shovel, rake handle, or by hand and put 2 quarters into the hole and cover lightly. Repeat every 2 feet either in a row or square.
In my area, which is about the same latitude as Tennesee, we plant in late March or early April.
If you have the time it will help a little to weed around the base of the plant once during the season. If not, don’t worry about it. You should try and “ramp up” around the base of the plant once or twice during the season though. The reason for this being that rain and gravity may wash soil from around the base of the stalk and some potatoes will be near the surface. If potatoes, either while growing or after harvest are exposed to sunlight they will turn green. The green part contains a toxin that can make you sick. Never eat the green portion of a potato.
By hilling or ramping up you will ensure that everything is covered. You’ll know if you need to hill up if you can see the roots starting to branch downwards where the stalk meets the soil. You can also hill up around the plant with leaves or straw. I just walk the row, and hoe once or twice by reaching across the row to the opposite side of the plant and pull some soil up onto the stalk, up to about the first branch of the plant.
They will need water if you live in an arid location. Most temperate areas will have sufficient rainfall. If your plants start to yellow, they are wilting and need water.
About 60 days after planting, pull up one or two plants to check size. If you only have a few plants, carefully dig around the outside of the plant and feel around for tubers. You’ll want at least egg size taters for “new potatoes”. If you can wait another week or two, they should reach a good size. If you are lucky you may get some the size of your fist or better. After flowering is the best time to harvest, but if you can’t wait and they’re big enough for you, start eatin’ !
To harvest use a hand shovel and push it into the soil about a foot from the stalk, gently pull up on the stalk while levering up with the shovel. The taters should mostly stay connected to the plant. After a few plants it will become second nature. Feel around in the soil for ones that did not come up, you may be surprised! Try not to cut the tates with the shovel. If you do eat these first.
Don’t wash the spuds. Keep out of sunlight and store in a cool damp place if possible. They’ll keep for months. Don’t disregard the tiny ones either. Keep them in a dark place and you can use them as next year’s seed taters!
After a few months some of the spuds will start to form eyes or sprouts, just cut ‘em out when you eat them. You should expect 1 pound or so per plant.
I’ve still got about 20lbs. left from July. Enjoy.