Planting potatoes, also known in some localities as spuds, is a great way to stretch your food dollar. In addition to being tasty and healthful, potatoes are easy to grow and store, making them a hit with just about everyone.
Many people buy long storage-variety seed potatoes from a local garden store in late spring. Seed potatoes are really just a small potato harvested young. Each ‘seed’ should have at least one, but preferably two or three ‘eyes’ or buds.
Cutting Seed Potatoes (Spuds)
Normally, a seed potato is about 2 inches x 3-4 inches in size (or smaller). It may have 2 to 5 eyes on the whole thing. I usually cut it in half giving me 2 pieces to plant, one piece with 2 eyes and one with 3. Try to avoid cutting through as eye as this is where a new shoot begins.
This cut piece contains several ‘eyes’
Directions To Use Seed Potatoes in the Garden
If you plant on ground level, plant these ‘seeds’ in rows about 2 feet apart, placing each one 12 -16 inches apart. Mix in plenty of peat moss to help with acidity since potatoes like a 6.0-6.5 pH. Peat moss is available in big, light weight compressed bales at nurseries or a hardware like Home Depot. It will help loosen the soil, too.
The lighter the soil (not packed or clay), the more freely and the bigger the tubers will grow. They will also be cleaner. A 4′ x 8′ raised bed is ideal since there is never any compaction from equipment. See my post on building a raised 4′ x8′ box here.
In a 4′ x 4′ raised bed, you can plant 16 pieces with eyes in a grid – 4 rows of 4 pieces. Plant them 6-7 inches deep. Place it with the cut side down so the ‘eyes’ are facing up. Cover them over with dirt. This will give you 16 plants with many spuds under each plant at harvest.
It takes 2-3 weeks for the sprouts to reach up to where they peek out of the soil. As the sun warms the soil, the sprouts grow faster seeking light. They need full sunlight to do their best.
Be patient… With green healthy leaves on top you can be sure the your spuds are growing underneath. When your plant flowers (some varieties don’t), that’s when the tubers really start to swell up and that’s when you’ll want to give extra water and feed once or twice with a liquid manure such as fish emulsion.
Potatoes will sometimes rise to the soil surface as they develop. If the skin is exposed to the sun, it will turn them green (more on this below).
Best thing to do is to push some additional soil over and around the plants to form a hill, thus keeping the spuds covered. Leaf mulch also helps retain moisture for less watering.
Two of my favorite varieties are Yukon Gold and Red Pontiac (above). Both are extra good keepers, and Red Pontiac does well in heavy soils. Pontiac Red also makes the best “new” potatoes. Lightly boil them, and add butter, salt and pepper, and parsley. Yum!
If you’ll be storing most of the late potatoes, choose a warm, dry day after a period of little or no rain. Cloudy days are even better, since too much light turns newly dug potatoes green.
Either a 5 or 6 pronged fork or a pointed shovel does a good job of digging, but stay way out at the edge and move closer until you find spuds. You can dig deep enough next to a hill to raise the entire hill at one time. If you injure a few, don’t fret: just put them aside for the evening meal; they won’t keep. Be gentle. Each bruise lowers the storage quality.
Leave the potatoes outdoors in the shade for several hours to dry. During that time most of the soil stuck on them should also drop off. Don’t wash the potatoes; it’s hard to get them really dry afterward. You may use a soft brush but don’t break the skin.
Put the potatoes in the dark after they’ve dried.
Move the potatoes to a much cooler, dark place for winter storage. Experts recommend 35 to 40 degree F with moderate humidity and ventilation. If these standards are met in your basement or root cellar, you can expect mature potatoes to store for up to eight months. Higher temperatures will mean quicker sprouting and shriveling. Don’t stack them higher than 6-8″ in a bin with open sides.
When potatoes are exposed to light, their skins start to turn green — a sign that the toxic substance called solanine is developing. This occurs if potatoes aren’t fully covered by soil while they’re growing, if you leave them in the sun for too long after the harvest, or if they aren’t stored in complete darkness. Potatoes you buy from the supermarket also turn green if they aren’t stored in a dark place. Peeling or cutting away green sections before cooking will eliminates the problem. Just don’t feed green peels to the chickens!
Only Start with Organic Potatoes From the Market – It Works!
You can buy potatoes at the market to plant, but they must be organic. Organic potatoes don’t get sprayed with sprout inhibitor. They can be cut into pieces with a few eyes each and planted the same way as seed potatoes. The only negative to this is that the variety may not store as well as one developed for over-winter storage.
You can become more independent of the grocers, and the rewards are satisfying as you pass these skills on to your children.
Thanks for reading!