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Growing Potatoes 101: Preparing to Plant Potatoes

By Paul Gardener


Tags: Planting potatoes, Paul Gardener,

A photo of Paul Gardener Recently, I dropped by our local nursery to pick up a few additional items that we needed to have. One of those items was another five pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes.

While we were sorting through the 'taters, an older couple was there looking to get some as well and asked us if we'd ever grown them. I was actually pretty shocked, after we said "yes, many times." When they asked us, "what are tubers?" (The sign on the display referenced tubers) I guess I shouldn't be... shocked that is... but I was. I guess our disconnect from our food has been going on longer than I had imagined. We talked to then for a little while, giving them a basic primer in potato growing 101, and went our separate ways. It got me to thinking that this may be a really good time to go over some of the basics of growing potatoes. I Usually have my potatoes in the ground around St Patrick's Day, but this year it's been so rainy and wet – locally our watershed levels are averaging around 160%-170% of our normal level – that I haven't been able to get them into the ground. I probably could have squeezed them in at some point, but I think I would have suffered from a lot of rot if I had.

First of all, the potatoes themselves are the tubers; and tubers are "...various types of modified plant structures that are enlarged to store nutrients. They are used by plants to survive the winter or dry months and provide energy and nutrients for regrowth during the next growing season..." (wikipedia). Just needed to get that straight from the start.

Potato plant in hand 

Potatoes are plants in the Solanaceae family. That makes them cousins with plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. If you think about the way that those plants bear fruit, you'll have a pretty good idea of the way that potatoes bear their tubers as well. Many folks think that potatoes grow from the roots of the plant, an understandable thing considering the photo above, it does look like they've grown from the roots, But take a look at this photo:

Potato anatomy 

You can see the seed potato that was placed in the ground and can clearly see that the small potatoes are growing from the stem ABOVE the planted potato. Think again about tomatoes ... if you pay attention to them they actually grow from a small stem that grows from the main stem. Potatoes are the same, except that they only grow on the stem that is underground. Because of that, they are planted a little differently

Potato spacing 

This might look a lot like how you would lay out any other plant before putting it in the ground. The difference here is that I'm not going to plant them into the hills, but rather will bury them a couple of inches under the soil at the bottom of the furrows. I lay the potatoes out so I know how many I can fit in a row, then dig them in and leave them alone. Potatoes don't need to be watered in because the tuber itself is mostly water itself and is designed by mother nature to support this plant as it gets itself established. I let my potatoes grow until they are nearly a foot tall before I ever irrigate them. The spring rains take care of that for me. After the potato plants have grown up enough to be five or six inches above the ground, I will then rake or hoe the soil from the hills over and onto the plant itself. After this, I let the plant grow further. When it's another five or six inches above ground level again, I will hoe the soil up onto the plant again leaving furrows between the plants that I will flood irrigate once or twice a week.

aireal planted potatoes 

As the weather turns hotter and the plants are getting taller, I want to keep mounding over the plants as much as possible, and mulching to keep the moisture level steady and weeds down. Grass clippings work great for this. The reason, in case you were wondering, why I keep mounding soil and mulch over the plants is because, as I said, the actual potatoes grow from the stems above the seed potato, but only where it's covered. I want to make sure that there's as much stem underground as possible when the potatoes are growing. So, the long and the short of it is that with a little understanding about the way that potatoes grow and some of the ways that you can coax them along and get great returns for yourself.

Harvesting potatoes 

Best of luck with your tater growing!

Paul~

ray thom
8/20/2012 6:58:22 PM

We are diggig our yellow potatoes and nearly alll of them are starting to rot in the middle. What did we do wrong? We bought them at our garden center where we get out seeds and plants each year.


stardancerxke
6/30/2011 2:59:23 PM

Question for Qberry Farm. What size is your translucent barrel and where did you get it? We can get 55 gal foodgrade barrels but they aren't translucent they are either blue or white. Thank you


hans quistorff
5/2/2011 11:58:46 PM

Here is a secret to get potatoes started early. I have a translucent white barrel with the top and bottom cut off. I space the barrel over the potatoes spaced evenly then cover with them with half a foot of dry soil. I cover the top with a clear sheet of plastic to keep the rain off and protect against frost. When the potatoes are a foot tall I ad more soil each time. Take the cover off on sunny days and leave it off after danger of frost. Try to keep soil consistently moist for uniform size. Cover if rain is to heavy water if to dry. Lift off barrel and scatter to harvest then start a new batch for fall and cover for early frost.


charlie greene
5/2/2011 3:18:12 PM

Thanks for a great article! I live in Cedar Key Florida and I put in on Feb. 18th right at the height of a full moon cycle......I put them S(Scab side down) 6 inch's into the soil (mostly rotting leaves that were put through my mower along with some good soil).......I waited until they came up just about 6 inch's or more and them covered them with about 12 inch's of clean straw mulch.....They then shot through the straw like they were on steroids and I again covered them with another 6 inch's of the clean straw......They again have poped through and continue to grow like crazy.....We have picked some of the golf sized creamers and have tied up our hands to prevent us from picking any more.......If we did, there would be nothing left for us to harvest at the end of May/early June...Simular to the Ruth Stout method that has worked for us since the Sixties........


cindy rafter
5/2/2011 11:59:06 AM

I just found that our potaoes (42 hills of 70 came up)have started to bloom out this week end. Its time to flood them once more and then let me dry! This artical is great! Thanks for all the hard work now I must return to the garden! Cin


vicky
5/2/2011 2:50:42 AM

I'm thrilled to see an article about potatoes. We can get seed potatoes here at the farm store. But people act like "what you planted potatoes?". I guess, because potatoes as a whole are cheap to buy. But I say, plant what you eat. Anything you grow will save you money if you don't pay for water. And my potatoes won't be sprayed with whatever they put on them. Thank goodness. Thanks for the article.


cindy murphy
5/1/2011 8:59:23 PM

I finally got my potatoes planted today!! I've been waiting for the rains to subside too, afraid they'd rot if I planted before now. We had good luck last year with our potatoes…had a lot of them, anyway, but they were small, probably what most people would refer to as new potatoes or creamers. We HAD to harvest them early. Moles were the reason; they burrowed through the garden, actually uprooting the plants, until I noticed when I got home from work, they were laying there, wilted and shriveled in the sun, (the plants, not the moles). Great article, Paul. Enjoy your day.


kriste misiak
4/30/2011 6:31:06 AM

I noticed in the photos you planted whole potatoes.You can cut the potato so that it has at least 2 preferably 3 eyes on each piece.You get more plants out of less seed this way. Let the pieces dry, so that the cut sides scab over (about 3 to 5 days) before planting the pieces. This is so it doesn't start to rot before it starts to grow.


nebraska dave
4/25/2011 7:01:30 PM

Paul, I tried to raise Yukon Gold potatoes last year with disappointing results. I had heard from my garden bloggers that it was a bad year for raising potatoes and they didn't have very good success with potatoes either. This year I am going to try the deep mulch method. I have basically increased the sides of my raised beds by 8 inches and plan on filling it with mulch as the potatoes grow. I've heard that potatoes will grow in straw so I'm going to plant the potatoes in my raised bed then as the plants grow the mulch will be added until it's maybe 10 inches deep. If nothing else it will keep the weeds down and the moisture in the ground. I do like Yukon Gold potatoes the best. Hopefully I will get more this year than last year. Have a great potato day.