The Potato Grower’s Handbook – Expert Tips Inside


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The Potato Grower’s Handbook - Expert Tips Inside
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Discover the unparalleled delight of homegrown potatoes! These nutrient-packed gems embody the true joy of gardening—gratifying to sow, rapid to thrive, and a sheer delight to unearth. Our comprehensive Potato Cultivation Handbook encompasses everything from planting and nurturing to harvesting and preserving your bountiful potato yield.

Potatoes are the epitome of undemanding vegetables, making them an ideal choice for novice cultivators. Flourishing in a wide range of soils, they unfailingly yield an abundant harvest, just waiting to be uncovered. Nevertheless, there are a few simple steps you can take to enhance the quality of your crop.

Introducing Potatoes

Behold the versatile potato (Solanum tuberosum), a cool-weather gem that thrives splendidly in the northern reaches of the U.S. However, don’t be disheartened if you dwell in warmer climes; these hardy spuds can also be cultivated as a winter crop. Surprisingly, they are closely related to peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants, yet their adaptability to higher altitudes and tough growing conditions sets them apart. The ancient Incas of Peru were the first to acknowledge and cultivate this extraordinary vegetable.

History of Potato

Historical accounts tell us that potatoes made their way to the American Colonies in 1621, courtesy of the Governor of Bermuda, who sent these treasures to the Governor of Virginia at Jamestown.

What we relish from the potato plant is its concealed treasure, the underground “tuber.” This enlarged subterranean storage marvel develops from underground stems known as stolons, emerging once the plants reach a height of 6 to 8 inches, approximately 5 to 7 weeks after planting.

As you dig into these nuggets of goodness, you’ll uncover a wealth of nutrients. Notably, the nutrient-rich skin alone delivers a whopping 45% of your daily vitamin C requirement and 18% of potassium, along with an array of other essential nutrients.

Savvy gardeners are well aware that the realm of potatoes extends far beyond the familiar white Idaho spuds found at grocery stores. In fact, there exists a cornucopia of potato diversity, with over 100 distinct varieties boasting a spectrum of skin colors, flesh hues, and sizes ranging from large to fingerling! From floury types, perfect for indulgent roasting or creamy mashing, to firm and waxy ones, ideal for delightful boiling or as the star ingredient in a refreshing potato salad. Delve into the fascinating world of potato varieties in the section below and unlock a treasure trove of flavors and textures.

When it comes to planting, these prized tubers are known as ‘seed potatoes’ and can usually be found packaged in bags or netting. The optimal planting season for seed potatoes commences in spring, about two to four weeks prior to the last expected frost. This strategic timing sets the stage for a thriving potato-growing journey that promises a bountiful harvest of delectable delights.

Plantation of Potatoes

Prepare for a successful potato-growing adventure by choosing a spot that basks in at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, alongside fertile, loose, and well-draining soil. Beware of hard or compacted soil, as it can lead to oddly shaped tubers. The soil’s acidity should ideally be slightly on the acidic side, with a pH range of 5.8 to 6.5. Keep a close eye on the soil temperature, ensuring it stays within the range of 45°F to 55°F (7°C to 13°C) for optimal growth. Come fall, enrich the soil by incorporating compost or organic matter.

When to Plant Potatoes?

When deciding on the right planting time, set your sights on a window that falls 2 to 4 weeks before the anticipated last frost date. While considering the calendar can be helpful, it is wise to prioritize the condition of the soil. Make sure the soil is not overly wet, sticking together and proving difficult to work with. Allow it to dry out a bit before embarking on your planting journey. Don’t fret if you encounter a late and wet spring; you can adjust your planting schedule accordingly and even extend it through April (location-dependent) or June, particularly if you opt for container gardening.

Different regions offer varying planting times, tailored to their climate. Cooler regions typically sow early-maturing potatoes from early to mid-April. On the other hand, warmer areas boast a broader planting window, spanning from September to February. For instance, gardening enthusiasts in central Florida kick off their potato planting in January, while their counterparts in Georgia prefer February for this endeavor. Embrace the nuances of your region’s climate and plan your planting schedule accordingly, setting the stage for a flourishing potato crop.

How to Plant Potatoes?

How to Plant Potatoes?

Embarking on the potato planting journey begins with acquiring the right foundation: ‘seed potatoes.’ These are the potatoes specially cultivated for planting purposes and can be found in bags or netting at garden centers. It’s crucial to use certified seed potatoes, ensuring they are disease-resistant. Take note not to mistake seed potatoes for potato seeds or those you find in the grocery store.

Once you have your hands on the seed potatoes, inspect them for eyes (buds) protruding from the surface. As soon as you obtain them, liberate them from their packaging and lay them out in a tray or an old egg carton. Allow them to bask in a bright, frost-free environment for sprouting. This process, known as ‘chitting,’ isn’t obligatory, but it can accelerate the growth process. By the time they are ready for planting, chitted potatoes will be raring to go, ready to extend their roots with enthusiasm.

During the chitting process, after about a month, you’ll notice the potatoes producing stout, stocky, green sprouts—exactly what we desire. The aim is to avoid long, pale sprouts that potatoes tend to develop when kept in darkness. If you find yourself short on time and haven’t had the chance to chit your potatoes, fear not; simply proceed with planting them directly in the ground.

Potato Harvest Award

Chitting can offer a head start, but if circumstances don’t permit it, the main objective is to get your seed potatoes into the soil, allowing nature to take its course. Whether you chit or not, with the right care and environment, your potatoes will flourish and reward you with a delightful harvest.

Discover a thrifty and ingenious method to multiply your seed potatoes without spending a penny—by carefully cutting them in half! However, exercise this technique only when the potatoes boast an abundance of “eyes,” those tiny dimples from which sprouts emerge. When cutting, position the end with the most eyes facing upwards, as this encourages vigorous sprout growth.

How to grow potatoes cut seed potatoes into chunks with eyes

Here’s a nifty trick to ensure success

Set aside at least 2 days before the planned planting date for this process. Take a clean, sharp paring knife and skillfully divide the larger potatoes into golf ball-sized pieces, ensuring each piece contains 1 to 2 eyes. This brief waiting period allows the cut surfaces to heal, forming a protective layer that enhances moisture retention and wards off rot. However, exercise caution and refrain from cutting up seed potatoes smaller than a hen’s egg; plant them whole to ensure their well-being.

By employing this clever technique, you’ll be able to make the most of your seed potatoes, giving your potato patch a head start towards a prolific harvest.

Transform your planting area into a haven of fertility by generously applying a nourishing layer of compost across the surface. A depth of approximately an inch or 3 cm will do the trick. Potatoes are known to be voracious feeders, and this thoughtful gesture of providing extra nourishment will fortify the soil’s fertility, ensuring a bountiful and robust harvest.

The compost acts as a natural source of vital nutrients, supplying your potato plants with the sustenance they crave. As they delve their roots into the enriched soil, they’ll thrive and flourish, rewarding you with a cornucopia of delicious spuds when the time for harvest arrives. Embrace this simple yet effective step in your potato-growing journey, and witness the magic of well-fed plants yielding a gratifying abundance.

The 4 Best Potato Planting Techniques

The 4 Best Potato Planting Techniques

Discover four diverse and inventive methods for planting potatoes, each offering its unique benefits and charm. (You can also refer to the video demonstration for a visual guide, if desired.)

Individual Holes

Create holes in the soil, approximately 6 inches deep (or 16 cm), for each seed potato. Enhance the planting spot with a touch of slow-release organic fertilizer, such as chicken manure pellets. Next, position the potato with its sprouts pointing upwards, and gently cover it with soil. Early varieties should be spaced around 16 inches (or 40 cm) apart in all directions, while maincrop potatoes require a bit more room to spread their roots, so allow 18 inches (or 45 cm) between them.

V-Shaped Trenches

Carve out trenches, spanning 2 to 2.5 feet (60 to 75 inches) in length. Line the bottom with a generous layer of nourishing garden compost, along with a scattering of those beneficial chicken manure pellets. Proceed to place your tubers about one foot or 30 cm apart within the trenches. Then, gently refill the soil. Don’t fret over which direction you plant them—opt for the method that suits your garden layout best.

Straw Planting

Create a cozy nest for your seed potatoes by gently embedding them into the soil surface. Once nestled in, cover the potatoes with a thick layer of straw. For a detailed guide on this method, check out our article on planting potatoes in straw.

Pot Planting

No garden space? No problem! Utilize large containers, old compost sacks, or specialized potato sacks to cultivate your spuds. Begin by filling the bottom of your chosen vessel with approximately 4 inches (10 cm) of quality potting mix. Lay one or two seed potatoes on top and cover them with more potting mix. As the foliage grows, continue to add potting mix bit by bit, gradually hilling or earthing them up until the soil level almost reaches the container’s top. Witness the foliage thrive and flourish in its confined space, creating a captivating sight.

Choose the planting method that suits your circumstances and embrace the adventure of growing your own delicious potatoes.

See our article about Growing Tomatoes in Pots

How to Grow Potatoes?

How to Grow Potatoes?

Watering your potatoes is a critical aspect of nurturing a thriving crop. These lush and leafy plants expend significant effort to swell their precious tubers, making adequate water supply paramount. During dry spells, ensure thorough watering to maintain even moisture levels, particularly after the flowers bloom. Aim to provide 1 to 2 inches of water per week, a vital contribution to your potato’s prosperity.

However, striking the right balance is key. Be cautious of excessive water immediately after planting, as well as inadequate water as the potatoes begin to form, as these conditions can lead to misshapen tubers. A useful indicator for when to stop watering is the yellowing and wilting of the foliage.

For container-grown potatoes, be extra vigilant about keeping them well-watered, especially in warmer weather, as this diligence will significantly impact your harvest.

Improving the Flavor and Quality of Potatoes

To enhance the flavor and quality of your potatoes, focus on hilling, a beneficial technique. As the potato plants grow above the soil surface, periodically mound up soil and compost around the plant, allowing only the top leaves to remain exposed. This depth and darkness promote better potato development. Avoid exposing the spuds to sunlight, as this can lead to greening and the production of the toxic chemical solanine, resulting in a bitter taste.

Hilling is best done in the morning when the plants are at their tallest, as they tend to droop during the heat of the day. Gradually draw up the soil with a hoe as the stems reach around 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in height, ensuring only the top part is exposed. Continue this process in stages until the foliage closes over in between the rows.

If you’re working with a smaller raised bed, consider topping up with organic matter throughout the entire area for a simplified approach.

Protect your potato plants from late frosts, especially if you’ve started early in the season. Frost can damage young foliage, causing setbacks in growth. Cover the area with multiple layers of warming fleece or row cover fabric, shield clusters of shoots with pots, or draw up soil to bury the young shoots when frost is forecasted.

Additionally, exercise caution with potato berries, which may appear during cool growing seasons. These berries are fruit, resembling tomatoes, but they are poisonous and inedible. Their seeds will not produce potato plants resembling the parent, so it’s best to discard them.

For continued success, adopt a yearly crop rotation with potatoes to ward off pests and diseases effectively. Embrace these thoughtful practices, and your potato harvest will flourish year after year.

Suggested Varieties

Mid-Season Potatoes Second Earlies

Potatoes come in three distinct classifications based on their harvest times (relative to planting). When selecting potatoes for storage, it’s essential to make the right choice:

  1. Early-Season Potatoes: These are the first to be planted in early spring and grow rapidly (60 to 80 days). They are ready for harvest by early summer, boasting tender flesh and thinner skin. While they can be stored for a few weeks, they are best enjoyed fresh.
  2. Mid-Season Potatoes (Second Earlies): Maturing in 80 to 100 days, these potatoes are typically lifted in the second half of summer. They can be stored for up to a month, making them a reliable choice for those seeking moderate storage capabilities.
  3. Late Crops: Taking 100 to 130 days to mature, late crops are ideal for long-term storage, lasting 2 to 3 months under the right conditions. Planted in August and harvested in the fall, they offer excellent keeping quality.

Consider the texture and flavor of the potatoes, as well as your culinary preferences:

  • Varieties such as russets and long white potatoes are renowned for their dry-fleshed, mealy texture, making them the ultimate choice for baking, frying, and mashing. When transformed into creamy, dreamy mashed potatoes, they maintain their integrity without becoming sticky or gluey, allowing them to gracefully soak up delectable additions like savory gravy, rich butter, or tangy sour cream. A true delight for any culinary enthusiast!
  • Juicy, resilient, and round potatoes, known for their moist, waxy texture, are the perfect companions for a variety of dishes. Whether it’s hearty soups, flavorful curries, delightful frittatas, or refreshing salads, these potatoes shine by maintaining their shape beautifully during the cooking process. A wonderful bonus is the joy of pan-frying any leftover boiled waxy potatoes, which transforms them into a delightful treat. However, it’s essential to note that their waxy nature may cause stickiness if mashed, so it’s best to savor them in their intact form to fully appreciate their unique qualities.
  • Red-skinned potatoes are a popular choice for boiling and preparing delectable potato salads, owing to their attractive appearance and velvety texture. Their vibrant red skin adds a splash of color to any dish, while their smooth and succulent flesh provides a delightful culinary experience. Whether served warm or cold, these potatoes never fail to impress with their inviting taste and versatile nature in the kitchen.

Some potato varieties, such as ‘Yukon Gold,’ offer an intermediate texture, falling between truly waxy and mealy types.

Accept the wide range of potato types, which go well beyond the well-known Idaho potato, to investigate more interesting and mouthwatering options:

Early Varieties:

  • ‘Irish Cobbler’: Features tan skin and an irregular shape, making it a delightful heirloom choice for delicious mashed potatoes.
  • ‘Red Norland’: Boasts deep red skin and a sweet, delicate flavor, perfect for potato salads or boiling.
  • ‘Mountain Rose’: Exhibits red skin and pink flesh, known for its resistance to certain viruses.

Mid-Season Varieties:

  • ‘Yukon Gold’: A popular choice with tan skin and buttery-yellow flesh, available in mid to large sizes.
  • ‘Red Pontiac’: Boasts red skin and deep eyes, regarded as the easiest and most adaptable red potato to grow.
  • ‘Viking’: Features red skin and is highly productive.
  • ‘Chieftan’: Displays red skin and is resistant to potato scab, offering good storage capabilities.

Late Varieties:

  • ‘Katahdin’: Offers tan skin and resistance to certain viruses.
  • ‘Kennebec’: Features tan skin and is resistant to some viruses and late blight.
  • ‘Elba’: Exhibits tan skin and large round tubers, known for resistance to blight and potato scab.
  • ‘Fingerling Salad’ Potatoes: Delightful fingerling varieties perfect for salads.

With over 100 potato plant varieties available, you have a world of delectable options to explore beyond the ordinary. Unleash your culinary creativity with these diverse and flavorful potatoes.

Harvesting of Potatoes

The excitement of harvesting potatoes is akin to uncovering nature’s hidden gems. For a successful harvest, choose dry days to venture into your potato patch. Approach the task with a gentle touch, ensuring you don’t puncture the precious tubers or cause any damage to the skin. The key is to avoid cutting or bruising the potato skin during the process.

To facilitate easy digging, ensure the soil is not compacted, allowing you to unearth your potato treasures with ease. Potatoes are resilient to light frost, but once the first hard frost is on the horizon, it’s time to grab your shovels and commence the harvest.

Time to Start Potato Harvest

Timing is crucial to prevent the tubers from sitting for too long, reducing the risk of slug or disease attacks, especially for maincrop potatoes. Early varieties are typically the first to be lifted while the plants are still in bloom. The tubers should be about the size of a hen’s egg or slightly larger, but the choice is yours, depending on your preferences. Utilize a fork and work your way in from the edge of the plant, being careful not to harm the potatoes. If needed, lift the plants to expose most of the spuds, and don’t forget to check the soil for any you might have missed.

For maincrop potatoes, wait until the foliage starts to wither towards the end of the growing season. To simplify the process, consider cutting back the foliage on a dry day before digging up the potatoes. Once you’ve harvested them, let the potatoes rest on the soil surface for a few hours to allow the skin to dry off slightly. Avoid leaving them exposed for too long to prevent any potential greening.

With the joy of harvesting, you’ll have a delightful assortment of freshly dug potatoes, ready to be savored and enjoyed in your favorite dishes. Embrace this rewarding experience, and relish the satisfaction of unearthing your homegrown treasures from the earth.

Enhance your potato harvesting skills with these valuable additional tips:

  1. Preparing Potatoes for Storage: Toughen up potatoes for long-term storage by reducing watering after mid-August. This process strengthens the potatoes’ skin and helps them keep better during storage.
  2. Test Hill Method: To determine the ideal harvest time, dig up a test hill to assess the maturity of the potatoes. Mature potatoes have thick skins firmly attached to the flesh, while new potatoes have thinner skins that rub off easily. If they’re not quite ready, leave them in the ground for a few more days.
  3. Air-Drying: If the soil is excessively wet during harvest, allow the potatoes to air-dry as much as possible before storing them in bags or baskets.
  4. Removing Green Spots: Small green spots on potatoes can be trimmed off without issue. However, if there is significant greening, it’s best to discard the affected potatoes, as the green parts contain harmful solanine.
  5. Storing Potatoes: Only store potatoes that are free from bruises, disease, or damage to prevent problems during storage. Regularly check stored potatoes every few weeks and remove any that are starting to spoil.

Curing Potatoes:

  • After air-drying, pack the potatoes into breathable sacks or sturdy cardboard boxes for storage.
  • Store them in a dark, cool, and frost-free place, ideally at temperatures ranging from 45°F to 60°F (7°C to 15°C) for up to 2 weeks. This curing process allows the potato skins to toughen, extending their shelf life.
  • Avoid washing the potatoes until you’re ready to eat them, as washing can shorten their storage life.

Ideal Storage Conditions:

  • For potatoes intended for short-term consumption, storage location isn’t critical, as they will be consumed within a few days.
  • For long-term storage, find a dark, cool place with temperatures around 38°F to 40°F (3°C to 4°C). Higher temperatures can lead to sprouting and increased susceptibility to disease.
  • The storage area should also be somewhat humid, as potatoes contain 80% water, and excessively dry conditions can cause them to wither and dry out.
  • If a damp cellar is available, it makes an excellent storage location. Alternatively, consider using an extra refrigerator set a few degrees higher than usual, placing tubers in dark-colored, perforated plastic bags to allow air circulation while preventing exposure to light and greening. Other suitable locations include unheated entrances, spare rooms, closets, attics, cabinets, or insulated garages.
  • To increase humidity, place large pans of water in front of an air source.
  • Remember, potatoes require ventilation, so never store them in airtight containers. Always use perforated bags to ensure proper air circulation. Additionally, avoid storing potatoes with apples, as the ethylene gas emitted by the fruit can cause spoilage.

By following these practical tips, you can confidently store your harvested potatoes for extended periods, ensuring they remain fresh and delicious when the time comes to enjoy them.

Diseases and Pests of Potatoes

Potatoes can face two common adversaries: scab and blight. Scab is a bothersome disease, leaving rough, scabby patches on the skin. While these patches can be peeled off, scabby potatoes might not win any beauty contests! To avoid scab, ensure the soil remains consistently moist during the critical period when tubers are developing, which typically occurs once the foliage starts to bush out. Enhance water retention by incorporating compost or organic matter into the soil before planting. Additionally, consider opting for scab-resistant potato varieties to further safeguard your crop.

Potato blight, or late blight, poses a trickier challenge. It tends to strike after warm and wet weather, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. The disease manifests as dark patches on the leaves and spreads rapidly, posing a significant threat to your entire crop. While there are a few blight-resistant varieties available, the options are limited. Thankfully, early varieties are often harvested before the blight strikes later in the summer. To combat blight, diligently monitor your plants and act swiftly if you spot any tell-tale signs. If blight is detected, immediately cut back the foliage to prevent its spread to the potatoes below ground. Then, proceed to harvest the potatoes as soon as possible.

By staying vigilant and employing preventive measures, you can successfully mitigate the risks of scab and blight, allowing your potato crop to thrive and flourish without undue worries.

Notes on Cooking

Notes on Cooking for potato

Potatoes are versatile delights that can be prepared in numerous mouthwatering ways. From boiling and mashing to roasting and frying, the culinary possibilities are endless. These starchy gems can be cut into pieces and roasted to perfection, transformed into crispy french fries, or layered into savory scalloped dishes. Additionally, they can be crafted into delectable dumplings or savory pancakes, grated into golden hash browns, and even brewed into alcoholic beverages.

While most potato dishes are traditionally served hot, some are first cooked and then relished cold. A classic example is the ever-popular potato salad, offering a refreshing twist on this beloved vegetable. Another favorite is potato chips, satisfying cravings with their delightful crunch and flavor.

Whether you’re in the mood for comforting warmth or a refreshing cold treat, potatoes have something to offer for every palate and occasion. With their remarkable culinary flexibility, potatoes continue to delight and inspire food enthusiasts around the world. So, go ahead and explore the endless culinary possibilities that these humble tubers have to offer. Your taste buds will thank you!

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