How to Grow Potatoes

Olivia Bradley, Writer

In a previous article I wrote about a great recipe that required potatoes but I was thinking you guys probably don’t have any potatoes yet, so here’s some handy tips to keep your tubers nice and healthy!! Also I might research some more recipes so you’d better have these little suckers ready!

All ‘bout them taters

First off potatoes must be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the early spring, but keep soil temperatures in mind. Potato plants will not begin to grow until the soil temperature has reached 45 degrees F. The soil should be moist, but not dry or waterlogged.

Potatoes can tolerate a light frost, but you should provide some frost protection for the plants if you know that a hard, late season freeze is coming, like dry hay. If you want to extend storage times, and have a long growing season, you can plant a second crop as late as June 15 and harvest the potatoes as late as possible.


Cutting Potatoes Before Planting

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. A day or two before planting, use a sharp knife to slice the larger seed potatoes into smaller pieces. Each piece should be approximately two inches, and must contain at least one or two eyes.

Plant smaller potatoes whole. A good rule is to plant potatoes whole if they are smaller in size than a golf ball. In a day or so your seed will form a thick callus over the cuts, which will help prevent rotting.


Planting Potatoes in the Garden

We find that potatoes are best grown in rows. To begin with, dig a trench that is six-eight inches deep. Plant each piece of potato (cut side down, with the eyes pointing up) every twelve-fifteen inches, with the rows spaced three feet apart. If your space is limited or if you would like to grow only baby potatoes, you can decrease the spacing between plants. To begin with only fill the trench in with four inches of soil.

Let the plants start to grow and then continue to fill in the trench and even mound the soil around the plants as they continue to grow. Prior to planting, always make sure to cultivate the soil one last time. This will remove any weeds and will loosen the soil and allow the plants to become established more quickly.

How to Water Potatoes

Keep your potato vines well watered throughout the summer, especially during the period when the plants are flowering and immediately following the flowering stage. During this flowering period the plants are creating their tubers and a steady water supply is crucial to good crop outcome. Potatoes do well with one-two inches of water or rain per week. When the foliage turns yellow and begins to die back,  don’t water anymore. This will help start curing the potatoes for harvest time.

When to Harvest the Potatoes

Baby potatoes typically can be harvested two-three weeks after the plants have finished flowering. Gently dig around the plants to remove potatoes for fresh eating, being careful not to be too intrusive. Try to remove the biggest new potatoes and leave the smaller ones in place so they can continue to grow. Only take what you need for immediate eating. Homegrown new potatoes are a luxury and should be used the same day that they are dug.

Potatoes that are going to be kept for storage should not be dug until two-three weeks after the foliage dies back. Carefully dig potatoes with a sturdy fork and if the weather is dry, allow the potatoes to lay in the field, unwashed, for two-three days. This step allows the skins to mature and is essential for good storage. If the weather during harvest is wet and rainy, place the potatoes in a dry protected area like a garage or covered porch.

Storage Conditions

 You will be able to store potatoes well into the spring in our underground root cellar. Try to find a storage area that is well ventilated, dark, and cool. The ideal temperature is between 35 and 40 degrees F. Keep in mind that some varieties are better than others. Varieties like Red Gold and Rose Gold are best used in the fall, and others like Carola and Russets are exceptional for storage.

Saving Seeds

Home gardeners can save seed for several generations. Save the very best potatoes for planting. You may find that after several years the size begins to decrease; this is typical. Potatoes are very susceptible to viruses. If you are looking for maximum yields it is best to start with fresh, seed every year.