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If you have thought about growing potatoes, then now is a good time to try it out! Potatoes are easy to grow and give a substantial yield when grown even in a small garden. Growing potatoes can be a fun project to take up with all the different types and colors available. Potatoes are highly adaptable and do well in most climates with plenty of sun and frost-free weather. This article states all you need to know about growing, taking care of, and harvesting potatoes.
When To Plant Potatoes
Most commercially available potato varieties are classified based on how long potatoes take to grow and come to harvest. For most varieties, the ideal growing temperature is between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature goes over 80, it becomes too warm for them to grow. Here is some general advice on choosing the timing:
- The early maturing varieties of potatoes need about 75 to 90 cool-weather days to get to harvest. So the early varieties are a good choice if you live in the southern region, where summers tend to get hot.
- The midseason varieties of potatoes take 90 to 135 cool days to get to harvest.
- The long-season varieties need between 135 to 160 cool days to get to harvest. Therefore, they are a good choice in northern regions where the summer weather is mostly mild.
- When planting potatoes during spring, do it 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost of the season sets in if you live in zone 7 or warmer areas. It is important to time the planting as you don’t want the tender foliage to get killed by the frost.
- If you are planning for an autumn harvest, then start by planting in the summer. Time it in such a way that you don’t plant it any later than 12 weeks before the first frost of autumn is expected.
- If you live in the milder-winter regions where the summers are hot, you can choose a late-season variety that can be harvested in mid to late spring if you plant it in winter. This is to avoid the hot early summer weather and get the yield before the heat sets in.
- If you live in the subtropical or tropical regions, potatoes can be planted all year round. They are often planted during summer or autumn before the rainy season sets in.
Where To Plant Potatoes
When you go about planting potatoes, you need to know where to plant them. So, here are a few steps you need to follow:
It would be best if you planted them in a place that gets full sunlight all day. For example, if you are growing them in a planter on your balcony, ensure to keep them at a spot that is exposed to the sun all day.
Potatoes do well in well-drained soil that is fertile and rich in organic material. If your growth path is depleted, then add some organic matter such as aged compost or manure to the soil before planting.
If you’re growing it in the yard and wondering how deep to plant potatoes, loosen the soil up to 18 inches into the ground. If the ground is too hard, then create a raised bed for the plants.
Ensure that the place you plant the potatoes is not too dry and doesn’t stay water-logged or compact.
Ensure that the soil’s pH level remains neutral and stays around 5.0 to 5.5. While alkaline soils increase the size of the crop, they also increase the chances of a skin condition called scab-a.
Varieties Of Potatoes
There are over a hundred varieties of potatoes that can be grown in your home garden. You can choose the type you want, basing it on their taste, color, and other important qualities such as resistance to disease and climate adaptation.
These are the fast-growing varieties of potatoes.
1. Irish Cobbler
This is a delicious heirloom variety. It has an irregular shape and tanned skin.
The Norland variety can be grown in big sizes in more alkaline soil as they are resistant to potato scab.
3. Mountain Rose
These potatoes are grown for their resistance to certain viruses. They have red skin and pink flesh.
If you live in the mid zones then these potatoes will do well in your garden:
1. Red Pontiac
This is the most adaptable potato variety that is also the easiest to grow. It has deep eyes and red skin.
This is a highly productive variety of potatoes with red skin.
Overall a great variety of potato to grow as it is highly resistant to potato scab and can be stored for a long time. It also has red skin.
If you live in the northern zones, then these are the varieties you can choose from:
It is a variety highly resistant to some viruses. In addition, the potato has tanned skin.
This is again a tan-skinned variety that is resistant to some viruses and late blight.
Elbas are also tanned skin and large tubers. As a result, they are resistant to potato scabs and blight.
How To Plant Potatoes
Follow these steps to plant potatoes in your garden:
Step 1: Choosing The Seeds
The seeds of grocery store potatoes cannot be used for growing as they are often treated with sprout retarding agents. However, farm stores have potato seeds that are disease-free and certified. You could also use sprouted seeds from farm-bought potatoes.
Step 2: Separate The Eyes Before Planting
The ‘eyes’ through which the plant sprouts need to be split apart from a large tuber since space can get crowded as the plants grow. If the potatoes are smaller than a golf ball with sprouting eyes, they can be planted whole.
Step 3: Cure The Cut Pieces
To stop the potatoes from rotting, you have to ‘cure’ the skin and cut sides by placing them in the sun for a few days to dry them out.
Step 4: Planting The Potatoes
Dig holes 6 inches deep and 12 inches apart in your garden for each plant. Plant seeds of potatoes with the cut side facing down and the eyes facing up. Add about 2 teaspoons of high-phosphorous low-nitrogen fertilizer and cover up the hole with soil. Water the soil well…
Tips to Avoid Pests
Pets will inevitably attack your potatoes, especially if you live in the suburbs or the countryside. So here are tips for dealing with them:
- Pests such as leafhoppers, Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, and aphids can be physically avoided by covering the plants with floating rows until midseason.
- The Colorado potato beetles and their larvae need to be handpicked and killed.
- A strong blast of water can be used to knock aphids off the plants.
- Use a Bacillus thuringiensis pesticide spray to kill beetles and leafhoppers.
Tips On How To Take Care Of Growing And Hilling Potatoes
Here are important tips to keep in mind when caring for potatoes:
Potatoes need to be grown in soil that is moist but not too wet. If the soil gets wet for long, the tubers will start to rot. It is ideal for maintaining even soil moisture as fluctuations in the water content lead to cracked tubers. If you live in a zone with excess heat and sunlight, mulch can maintain an even soil temperature and conserve soil moisture. It also keeps away weeds and pests.
Apart from the fertilizer added during planting, potatoes need to be fed regularly to maintain healthy growth. Use low nitrogen and high phosphorous fertilizer such as NPK 5-10-10 to feed the tuber periodically. Using high nitrogen fertilizer will promote dense foliage growth over tuber growth. If the soil is weak in nutrients, add compost soon after planting and regularly every two weeks throughout the growing season.
The soil where potatoes are grown needs to be loosely packed to promote good draining and aeration. Avoid walking around unnecessarily and use boards around rows to avoid compacting the soil. The maturing tubers need to be protected from sunlight by mulching and hilling.
Hilling up is a method to protect the tubers from sunlight as they grow and mature. Tubers exposed to sunlight turn green and toxic for consumption. To hill up your plants, you will have to wait for the stems to grow over 4 to 6 inches tall. Then, using a garden hoe mound, you can move the soil around the stem while leaving just the foliage in the top exposed to the sun. You could also use a mixture of chopped-up straw and leaves along with soil to make the mounds.
When To Harvest Potatoes
Different varieties of potatoes take their own time to mature. However, they show these common signs as readiness to being harvested:
- Their foliage begins to die and drop back.
- The vine leaves become yellow and wilt as the harvest time approaches.
- If you wish to retrieve baby potatoes, start harvesting two weeks after the vines have flowered.
- Another sure sign of maturity of potatoes is the dead vines.
- In general, most potato varieties will be ready to harvest in about 7-8 weeks after the sprout potatoes are planted.
How You Can Harvest Potatoes
Potato harvesting procedure:
- As the foliage dies, it is time to harvest. First, cut off the vines and leaves and allow the potatoes to sit in the soil for about two weeks. It gives them time to develop a thick skin. However, do not let them sit for too long if the soil is very moist.
- Choose a dry day to dig the potatoes up. Be careful not to damage the tubers and avoid cutting or bruising the skin with the instruments. Damaged potatoes cannot be stored for long and should be consumed as soon as possible.
- If the potatoes were harvested in wet soil, allow them to air-dry for a few days before storing them for transport.
- Do not leave the dug-up potatoes in the sun for too long after a harvest. They start to turn green and go bad when overexposed to the sun. Also, green potatoes are bad for consumption.
How To Store Potatoes
When potatoes need to be stored for long periods of time, such as weeks or months, they will need good ventilation, no light, cool temperatures, and high humidity. Here are the tips for storing potatoes long term:
- Store potatoes at cool temperatures ranging from 42 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Basements, closets, attic, or spare rooms with some air cooling work well to store potatoes for a long time.
- Since potatoes are 80% water, they could dry out easily if they are not stored in a high humidity environment. Damp cellars or underground storage facilities that hold moisture can do well. You could also place them in plastic bags with some perforation for airflow. If there is a cooling fan, place a pan of water in front of it.
- Potatoes need to be stored in complete darkness to avoid greening. Greening indicates the presence of solanine which renders them bitter. If you eat a greened potato, it will result in diarrhea and sickness.
- Never put potatoes in air-tight containers as they need fresh air to last for a long time.
There are over a hundred varieties of potatoes that can be easily grown in your garden. The type you choose should be based on the climate zone you live in and how long the weather permits the growth. Potatoes can also be grown in raised beds, planters, and other methods to give a good yield. They can be harvested in 7-8 weeks on average. Potatoes need to be protected from a few pests, and the tubers need to be protected from direct sunlight.