How to Plant Potatoes in Your Garden
Yesterday was St. Patrick’s day, and I celebrated by planting potatoes. It’s not hard to grow potatoes. Just let the sun warm the soil and dry it enough to work. If you want to get a jump on the weather, do like I did and cover the soil with black plastic for a few weeks to warm it faster, but bear in mind that potato plants do not like frost or soggy ground. Three to four weeks ahead of the last frost date, or later, is a good time to plant.
It is possible to have some success using grocery store potatoes for planting, but don’t count on it. There is a good chance that they have been held in conditions or otherwise treated in a way to minimize sprouting. Instead, buy seed potatoes. Seed potatoes are usually pretty easy to find at big box stores and independent garden centers. If you want the best and most consistent varieties, however, you should plan ahead and buy online. Once you’ve grown a crop, you can save your own seed potatoes.
Prepare the seed potatoes by cutting them into chunks of roughly 1-1.5 cubic inches, each chunk with at least one (preferably more) eye. Let these cut pieces cure for 3 to 5 days in a dark location with good air circulation and high humidity at room temperature. I placed mine on a cooling rack in a baking sheet, then covered them with a towel. When cured, they form a protective skin over the cut edges.
The Potato Patch
Prepare the garden bed by adding a liberal amount of compost. I like to use unfinished compost because it seems to improve the texture of my clay soil a bit better, and it provides more nutrient value than fine textured, well finished stuff. Potatoes prefer a more acidic pH than many vegetables, so do not apply lime.
Till the compost about 6 inches deep. No tiller, no problem. Just fork or shovel it in as best you can and let the worms do the rest.
In my 4-foot wide beds, I get better use of the space by making lots of trenches going across the beds at 18-inch intervals, rather than two long trenches. In this instance I picked up about 8 feet of plantable row space.
Planting The Seed Pieces
Plant the seed potatoes twelve inches apart in the 4-inch deep trenches, and cover them with two inches of loose soil.
When the shoots emerge, pull soil over them them until a 6 inch mound, or hill, forms. When the potatoes have been hilled, mulch them deeply with straw, chopped leaves, pine needles, etc. This mulch will hold moisture, help prevent weeds, and protect the growing potatoes that may otherwise have become exposed to the sunlight.
Is It Profitable?
The time involved in this project was about 20 minutes to cut the seed potatoes and 45 minutes to spread compost, till and plant. I will spend a total of about another hour weeding, hilling and mulching until harvest time. The 20 seed potatoes I purchased for $8, yielded 60 seed pieces. I can expect a yield of about 75 lbs, but if the weather is perfect, I may get more than 100 lbs.
Now only about 100 days to wait for a nice early summer crop of Yukon Gold and Red Norland potatoes for potato salad, grilling, roasting, mashing and whatever else we may come up with.