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Planting Taters

Planting Taters

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Have you ever eaten a freshly dug potato?  There is nothing like it.  We plant potatoes every year and just wait for that first delectable spud.   Many folks never try potatoes and I am not sure why.  They are simple to grow and one potato can produce so many – generally one pound of seed potato will produce about 10 pounds of harvest.

Here’s how it is done.

To grow potatoes we start with a healthy potato.  If you want a specific variety then it is wise to buy “seed potatoes”. Seed potatoes are cultivated for the purpose of growing and they are usually inspected for disease. Once you start growing your own potatoes, you can keep a few – stored in a cool dark place and use them to grow your next crop.

There are early, mid-season and late season potato varieties.  This is referring to how long it takes to get them from planting to harvest.

We usually grow three different types of potatoes and these are some of the varieties we have grown over the years. Red Norlands (early season), Red Pontiac, Yukon Gold (mid-season), Russets and Kennebecs (late season).  I have planted some of the fingerling varieties in the past and while they taste good, they do not tend to do as well disease and pest wise in my garden. It is best to plant your potatoes so they do most of their growing before it gets too hot.  Here in East Central Alabama that means that I need to get mine in the ground around the end of February till end of March.  I have planted later but find that I don’t get as many potatoes.  Every environment has its own quirks so it is best to check your average frost dates and also talk with your local gardens to see when they plant.

Every spring we plant about 20 pounds of potatoes. When I get them out to prepare for planting I check several things.  First of all – make sure they are not mushy and soft.  They need to be firm. I have cut off mushy sections if the other parts of the potato are still firm.  But if the potato is in poor shape then it will just rot in the ground and never sprout.

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The next step is to cut them into pieces.  You want to make sure that each piece has at least two “eyes” on it.  It is from these eyes that your plants will grow.  If you are not able to plant right away then you can place the pieces in a single layer on a table or something and they will begin to sprout after a few days. They need plenty of light at this stage to help the eyes grow. Then when you get them in the ground you can have a little head start. After I cut them I put them on a flat basket for several days and let the cut sides dry.  This helps to keep them from rotting in the soil as the plants begin to grow.

Okay – now how about the planting?  Planting taters is a bit different than the other crops in that you are gonna be planting in a trench.  I dig a trench about 10 inches deep and then put in some compost.   Mix that in with a hoe – if you use chemical fertilizer (never the best option) then be sure to mix it in and give it a day or so before you plant the taters – you don’t want it to be touching your potato pieces –it would burn them if in direct contact.  Make sure if you use manure that it is WELL composted so it doesn’t cause the potatoes to scab.You place each piece of tater – eyes up – about every 6 inches in the trench.  Then you are going to cover them with an inch of soil – no more for now.  Water the trench well.

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Once the plant starts growing you want to bring more soil around the plant – right up to the top leaves.  It is really good to mulch the trench as you go.  The plants will continue to grow and you just keep adding the soil/much around the plants, eventually you will have hills instead of trenches.  I usually stop adding soil when the plants are about 6 to 8 inches above the regular garden level.

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Through the summer the plants will ultimately flower.  When you see the flowers start that means the plant is making potatoes.  This is GOOD!!  You will want to be sure to water in the heat of the summer if you haven’t had any rain.  When your plants stop flowering and the stems and leaves start wilting (not from lack of water) and falling over then you can begin digging your potatoes.  Make sure that you water enough to get down to the roots after you begin hilling.

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Now comes one of the most fun things to do in the garden.  It is like an Easter egg hunt.  When our children were little they used to get little hand shovels and wait as I turn over the hills of potatoes with our potato fork.  Out of the depths of rich soil we overturn beautiful reddish-pink or yellow golden tubers everywhere.  The girls would all fall to their knees to see who can get the most.  The smaller ones we save for the next planting and the larger ones are brought in for eating.

You don’t have to harvest them all at once.  You can harvest some one-day and then wait a day or two to get some more.  We always rob a plant or two early as we usually can’t wait.  Once you get them dug, they need to cure.  You do this by setting them out in the shade on a blanket or some newspaper and let the air dry them out a bit.  Don’t leave them in the sun or they will turn green and begin sprouting. Also don’t dig them on a wet day – this spreads disease and the peels scar easily.  Once they have cured you can store them in baskets lined with newspapers.  They keep well in a cool dark place – never put them in the light or they will sprout.  Periodically, go through your potato storage and remove any that are getting soft.

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I highly recommend planting potatoes, as it is so simple and such a true satisfaction.  Just try one if you don’t have much room.  I have heard of folks buying 50 pound bags of  soil and just opening the bag and putting a few pieces in the top of the soil and letting it grow.  You should put some drain holes in the bottom of the bag for drainage.

Erin and Andy constructed a grow box last year and did very well with their potatoes in it.

Let me know if you try it and how it works.  I would love to hear.

paul

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Philippians 3:13-14 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Filed under: Gardening

9 Responses to "Planting Taters"

  1. Lana says:

    When do you plant your potatoes? Also, what is the grow time for potatoes from plant to harvest? I have an above ground “potato bed”, but, so far my luck hasn’t been that good because the plant wilts and dies before they get a good start. Very disappointing

    1. Angelia Angelia says:

      Hi Lana – I am in Clay County, Alabama – zone 7B for the USDA plant hardiness zone. I try to get my potatoes in the ground the last week of February if possible. From that point you can pretty much plant them anytime for the next 2 months. Once they begin to sprout, if there is a frost or freeze forecast you can just put some paper bags, sheets or good mulch over the top to protect them. As to harvest time it depends on whether you plant early, mid or late season potatoes – so your harvest time can run anywhere from about 65 to 140 days. I would encourage you to add some good compost to the bed. Do the leaves turn yellow before they wilt? It could be a soil born virus so it might be a good idea to try a different location and see how they do.

  2. Toni says:

    How do you keep the potatoes from rotting once you have them dug? We’ve planted red and white potatoes and have had trouble losing alot of both. After we dig them, we lay them out on cardboard or straw and try to keep them out of the light but we end up losing more than half. (We throw out rotting potatoes every day.)

    1. Angelia Angelia says:

      Do you lay them outside for a little while to cure them? Putting them on newspaper or something dry in the shade for a day or two will help them cure. Then when you bring them in they need a dry, cool, dark place. Kennebecs and russets last a bit longer than new potatoes or yukon golds. Might want to try a different variety. Remember you can also can and dehydrate potatoes too – this might be an option before you begin to lose them to rot. Hope that helps.

      1. Toni says:

        No, actually we didn’t cure them outside…we didn’t know to, we will this season though. Thank you so much for the help. I love your site, it has so much helpful, practical information.

        1. Angelia Angelia says:

          That will definitely help a lot – curing outside. I flip them out of the soil and then let them lay on top of the soil for an hour or so, then spread newspaper or hay on the ground in the shade and let them air dry for a day or two depending on the weather. Windy, dry, sunny day is perfect. Then you bring them inside. Remember to not wash off any dirt, just kind of dust them off after they air dry outside.

          1. Toni says:

            Thank you so much, I will definitely do that. I really appreciate all your help.
            Thanks again.

  3. Angela says:

    To help with storage, don’t wash the potatoes. After curing as Angie said, put them into storage without washing the dirt off. Also, if you do use chemical fertilizer, one high in phosphorus is supposed to help produce a large yield. I am trying this myself this year so I will report my results in a few months 🙂

    1. Angelia Angelia says:

      Yes, Angela! Thanks for adding that – I left it out – Don’t wash the potatoes for curing and storing. Appreciate you catching that.

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