Potatoes are a versatile crop that is easy to grow and once harvested, can be stored for a long time. When you sow and tend your own, you can know exactly what went into the process, and have the pleasure of harvesting food for your own kitchen.
Potatoes are grown from small potatoes or chunks cut out of larger ones. You can use leftovers from your own kitchen or certified disease-free seed potatoes. Large potatoes need to be cut into three or four chunks, each with a few dormant buds or "eyes" on them.
To plant your potatoes directly into the ground, either dig trenches or place the seed potatoes on the surface 4 to 6 inches apart and cover them with mulch. For container gardens, line the pots with plastic with holes and add potting mix. Plant the seed potatoes about 4 inches apart and cover with potting soil and straw.
The cheapest method of planting potatoes is to create hilled rows, though this method does require a large space for planting. Plant the potatoes in trenches and cover them with about three inches of soil. Once the shoots are about a foot tall, use a shovel to mound earth around the base of the plants.
Another method is to create a raised bed and fill it with soil before planting. This method results in a high yield. Wire cylinders or wooden boxes are a good option for smaller yards or wet soil.
Potatoes require one to two inches of water per week. Try to water the plants in a uniform way as this will help maintain a similar shape and size. Stop watering the plants about two weeks before harvesting or when the vines turn yellow and start to die. This should happen about 90 to 120 days after planting.
Potatoes need the dark to germinate. Once they have, plant them in an area of partial shade that gets about six hours of direct sunlight. If you have planted your crop in a container, you may want to move them throughout the season to get the full effect of the sun.
Potatoe varieties that grow well in containers include Yukon Golds, Chieftains, and Irish Cobblers. Use large containers with a diameter and depth of about 16 inches. A container this size is big enough to plant about four to six seed potatoes. Make sure that the container has drainage holes, as very wet soil will cause the vegetables to rot.
Potatoes grow best in well-drained loam soil that is loosely packed. Heavy clay soils tend to become hard when they are dry, which makes it difficult for the tubers to grow. Sandy soil drains quickly and therefore requires more frequent watering. Potatoes also grow very well in soil that has been covered in compost for a few months before planting.
Wireworms, Colorado potato beetles, and potato leafhoppers can damage your potatoes. Inspect your plants regularly for signs of infestation, such as clusters of yellow eggs under the leaves. Rub the eggs off and throw them away. You can use an organic pesticide if the infestation progresses. Adult Colorado potato beetles can be eliminated by dropping them into a bucket of soapy water.
Plant certified disease-free seed potatoes for the best chance of avoiding common diseases. Keep your soil moist but not soggy to prevent rot. To avoid potato blight, plant your crop in an area that gets a fresh breeze, and use an organic fungicide on a regular basis.
Before planting your potatoes, sprinkle the intended area with nitrogen and potassium, which promote early growth in tubers. Zinc and magnesium are also good for growth and create a nice finish on the skin. Calcium reduces the impact of diseases and is useful in preventing blight.
Plant your crop in early spring to take advantage of the cooler weather in which potatoes thrive. However, if you live in an area that experiences lots of rain in the spring, it may be better to wait until the summer to avoid rot. Additionally, make sure your potatoes are always covered with soil or mulch, as the skin that is exposed to sunlight will turn green.