6 Tips for Better Potato Production
Spuds are Easy to Grow!
Potatoes are very easy to grow, and oh-so-much fun to
harvest with your kids or grandchildren. Plant some soon. Actually, I tend to
wait until nearly mid-June to plant, as that seems to help me avoid the dreaded
potato beetle. Perhaps by the time my plants are up, all the beetles have
settled into my neighbors’ plots down my road.
Buy some seed potatoes – don’t use potatoes from the grocery store, which are often treated to prevent sprouting. If selecting potatoes to buy, I pick the small ones that can be planted whole. That minimizes the rot that sometimes bothers potatoes if you slice them into pieces for planting.
Seed potatoes are sprouting now
If the spuds you buy are big, you can cut them into chunks so that each has at least one eye, or growing point. But harden off these chunks by letting them dry out for a day or two. That will reduce chances of rot.
There are many ways to plant potatoes. Some people work the soil until it is loose and fluffy, and then hoe a deep furrow down the middle of the row, plant into it, and cover with a couple of inches of soil. Then, as the leafy green tops grow, more soil gets hoed over the stems until the original chunk of potato is 6 inches below the surface.
I generally dig holes in my row with a post hole digger. This tool allows me to dig an 8-inch deep hole that is about 6 inches across. I add some organic fertilizer, stir it in, stir, and place a chunk in the bottom of the hole. Then I put 2 inches of soil over the potato and wait for it to grow – and then add more soil to the hole.
Post hole digger makes nice holes for planting
The reason for all this is simple: roots grow down and new potatoes appear above the seed potato. You need to have enough light, fluffy soil above the seed potato for it to grow new spuds.
A third option involves preparing the soil in a bed and just placing seed potatoes on the soil surface, and covering with a thick layer of mulch hay or straw, six-inches or so. But don’t lay down all that mulch right away – put an inch of compost over the potatoes at planting time, and a little hay. Then add more after the leaves and stems are well established. To harvest, just rake away the hay and pick them up.
What about fertilizer for your spuds? Potatoes are relatively heavy feeders, so I always stir in some organic fertilizer. I like Pro-Gro, an organic, slow-release fertilizer.
Water needs for potatoes are moderate, but they never want to dry out completely, especially as they form the potatoes after blossoming.
The Colorado potato beetle can eat the leaves and reduce the crop. Visit your potatoes every day early in the summer to look for the beetles. Bring along a jar of soapy water and brush the beetles into it. If you see beetles, look for eggs. The egg masses are bright orange, and are always on the underneath side of the leaf. Pick the leaf and put the eggs into that jar of soapy water.
Colorado potato beetles are a problem if too many eat up the leaves. Hand pick!
Potatoes start to form a couple of weeks after blossoming. I sometimes slide my hand into the soil under plants and steal small potatoes long before harvest time. New potatoes are a real treat! Generally I pick after the leaves have died.
If you have no disease problems, you can save potatoes from this year’s crop for planting next year. I had a strain of Red Pontiac potatoes that I kept going for 25 years before a blight came and I had to let the strain die out.
Typical crop of Red Pontiac potatoes from one plant
I can see why the potato famine in Ireland was such a tragedy – potatoes are easy to grow, full of calories and vitamins, and highly productive. You can count on 2 to 5 pounds of potatoes from every plant. Grow enough potatoes and you can afford to have more kids!
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