When it comes to gardening, potatoes are one of the easiest crops to grow. For first-timers though, figuring out how to get started can be the most difficult part.
Luckily, it's not too hard to eliminate the intimidation factor. There are so many ways to propagate spuds, which means you can always find a method that gives you confidence. Cultivate using this first process, and once you have a handle on things, you'll be itching to branch out!
If you're just starting out, seed potatoes, or tubers, are definitely the way to go. This is the most common method of propagation, and cultivating them is known as vegetative or asexual reproduction.
Tubers are essentially potatoes that have gone into growing mode. When planting, you should use tubers with a lot of eyes to ensure lots of shoots. If the potato is small, you can plant it as-is. Larger potatoes should be cut into chunks roughly two inches large.
Chitting is when you start the growing process before planting. This is a great idea for gardeners who want to know if their spud is a dud. Plus, it'll shorten the growth cycle by a few weeks.
Methods vary, but you should begin chitting almost a month before you intend to plant. Simply keeping the potato on a bright window sill or under a flourescent lamp will stimulate growth from its eyes. Some people prefer submerging their starters in water, which works especially well for sweet potatoes, as does sand.
Old tubers tend to produce a faster crop, while newer tubers give a higher volume. Buying them from a nursery is your best bet, as you'll know what you're getting, and you can load up on advice and other supplies at the same time. You can also sprout them from store-bought organic spuds, but DNA variations mean you could end up with a different variety of potatoes this way.
Especially when you're new to the game, you should know what you're growing. Potatoes come in three main categories: early, midseason, and late. Early potatoes are great for colder climates, while later varieties work well for warm areas.
Once you have your tubers ready to go, it's time to plant. Atop several inches of fresh soil, place the tubers at 12-inch intervals if they're a large variety. For smaller ones, shoot for about eight inches. Then, add an inch or two of soil on top.
Stem cuttings are another way to test the waters of propagation. Instead of dealing with tubers, you can make new plants from the ones you already have. Using a clean blade, cut an offshoot stem from a healthy plant at an angle. Apply a root hormone for a bigger and better yield, then soak the cutting in water for a few weeks. Soon, it will sprout roots.
Pollinated potato flowers will produce seeds. If you've harvested seeds from previous plants, the genetics aren't a guarantee, so it's a shot in the dark regarding what variety you'll grow. Purchased seeds, on the other hand, are bred for consistency.
About six weeks before the last frost, put your seeds in starter trays with a nutrient-free soil. They'll sprout in about two weeks if you keep them at an even temperature with around 12 hours of light per day.
Cultivating tissues produces an astronomical amount of potential plants. This is best left to the pros and plant breeders, but it's a fun experiment if you have the right resources. It's the preferred method to get more out of crops with exceptional genes.
Take a tiny bit of the meristem, which is the plant's tissue; the roots and stem tips are great spots. Place the meristem in a nutrient liquid inside a test tube. Development occurs in 18 to 60 days, and then you can transplant the plantlet or cut it for additional reproduction.
The process for transplanting cuttings, seedlings, and cultivated plantlets is pretty much the same. For cuttings, once you see established roots, move them to their permanent home.
Seedlings and cultivated plantlets need to be at least two inches tall before transplanting. All get planted the same way as tubers, with around an inch of soil on top.
Whatever the method, once your tubers or plants are established, they'll grow in the same way. You can plant them in containers, bags, raised beds, towers, or right into the ground. They'll need 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day, but they'll also grow well indoors with a temperate environment and the right lighting conditions.
Drainage is critical to a successful harvest. The soil should remain moist, but not saturated. Some gardeners experiment with different growing mediums, such as straw or perlite, but don't go this route until you have some experience under your belt.
The more your potato plants grow, the more water they'll require. Fertilizing them every week or two is also important. A lot of gardeners hill their plants, adding additional potting medium as it grows out of the soil. This covers the lower stems, encouraging them to grow downward and produce more potatoes.
Once the leaves of your plants are beginning to yellow, stop taking care of them for roughly one week. Then, you're ready to harvest. If your plants are in the ground, dig them up. With containers, you can simply dump them out to gather your yield. Store your spuds in a cool, dark area till you're ready to make them a delicious part of your meal.