Are you a seasoned gardener, or are you one of the thousands of new gardeners getting out the shovels and seed packets and planting a vegetable garden? The number of new gardeners is up over 20% from last year. Whether it is due to the recession, getting back to nature or just a culinary adventure, growing potatoes is a great idea and easy.
You can plant your potatoes as soon as the soil can be worked and is at least 45 degrees. Just like most other vegetables, potatoes require full sun. They grow best in moist, but not soggy soil. They like a loose, well draining loam soil and a little acidic pH 5.8-6.5.
When choosing what variety of potatoes to grow make sure they are certified potatoes. The potatoes you have in your refrigerator or you get at the supermarket are not good choices. Purchase your potatoes from a nursery or order them from a gardening catalog. These potatoes are disease free and selected to give you the best yield. Some of the varieties to choose from are Yukon Gold, Kennebec, Russet or Superior. There are over a thousand varieties of potatoes.
Planting Your Potatoes
A day or two prior to planting your potatoes in the ground set them out at room temperature to allow them to begin to sprout. If your potatoes are large, cut them into sections so each section is at least 1 1/2 inches square and has at least one eye. To prevent them from rotting allow them to form a callous over the cut or purchase a fungicide to the cut area.
You can plant your potatoes in rows or mounds. I prefer to plant them in rows. The rows should be 2-3 feet apart. Dig a trench that is 4 inches wide and 6-8 inches deep. Place the potatoes the eyes facing up and 15 inches apart. Once you have all your potatoes placed at the correct interval cover them with 2 inches of dirt.
Your potatoes develop between the seed and the surface of the soil. So when your potato stems get between 4-6 inches tall, hill up some dirt halfway up the stem. Continue to hill up dirt around the stem until the potatoes start to flower. New potatoes when exposed to sunlight turn green and may be toxic.
Watering and Care of Your Potatoes
Ensure your potato vines stay well watered during the summer, especially when they are flowering. Water your potatoes early in the day so any moisture that gets on the leaves will dry off before the evening. Wet foliage sets your potato crop for disease. When the leaves on the vines start to turn yellow you can start cutting back on your watering to allow the tubers to mature.
Harvesting Your Potatoes
Once the foliage has died back you can now harvest your potatoes. Be careful when you dig your potatoes so you don’t damage them. If it is dry outside allow the potatoes to dry, unwashed for 2-3 days to cure. If you have wet conditions cure them in your garage or basement. This curing process protects the potatoes during storage.
Contributed by Rich Young, Colorado Master Gardener. For information, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 636.8921 or CSUmg2@elpasoco.com