How To Grow Potatoes – A Step By Step Guide
Growing Potatoes – Starting out on the right foot
Preparing the seed potatoes
Potatoes benefit from receiving some attention before they are planted out. There are a number of ways to do this and every seasoned gardener will tell you that their method is the best. Here is the simple method we recommend to prepare your potatoes before planting:
- Start six weeks before you want to plant your potatoes out (February or January typically, depending on your region)
- Determine which end is the “rose end”. This is the end with more “eyes”.
- Place the seed potatoes rose end up in old egg cartons or any shallow box (bucket if your growing potatoes in a bucket) in a warm spot away from any direct sunlight. Ideally, they should receive constant but indirect light (potatoes can be chitted in the dark but they do better in low light)
- Your potatoes will start waking up and will begin to sprout. Once the sprouts are 1-2cm long, they are ready to be planted out
- The last thing you need to do before planting is remove extra sprouting eyes so that there are only 2-3 left on each seed potato. You can rub the extras off with your thumb, no need to cut them.
Preparing the planting area
While you are waiting for your potatoes to wake up, it’s time to get outside to select and prepare the perfect place for your potato crop to grow. Select a site that receives full sun, that means at least six hours of sunlight a day. Your potatoes will benefit greatly from a rich, loose, well-draining soil. This can be achieved by amending your soil with organic material such as compost or well-rotted manure. To do this, lay about 2-4 inches of the material on top of the site then use a spade to dig and turn it into the dil to a depth of about. Phew! That was the most labor-intensive job of the year. Feel your blood flowing, take a breath of fresh spring air, and know that your potatoes will taste that much better thanks to your work.
Planting and caring for your potatoes
When to Plant Potatoes
Deciding when to plant and grow potatoes is a matter of personal preference.
You can plant you can seed potatoes as soon as the soil is soft enough to be worked, as early as 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. However, until things warm up, tender foliage will need a little bit of protection. You can cover them with agricultural fleece, a mulch such as straw, soil, or even old blankets in a pinch (blankets will need to be removed during the day). The benefit of planting early is that you will enjoy an early harvest, the benefit of waiting until after your last frost date is that you will avoid the risk of damage.
How to Plant Potatoes
To plant a larger number of seed potatoes, plant them in trenches. Dig trenches that are 6-8 inches deep about the same distance wide, and three feet apart from one another. It is important to leave the rows this far apart to allow for “hilling up” later in the season. Place your seed potatoes with the eyes (sprouts) up 12-15 inches apart. Back-fill the trench only halfway at first. About two weeks after planting, sprouts will have appeared. At this point you can back-fill the rest of the trench so that just 1-2 inches the foliage is above the soil surface. Alternatively, you can use a hand trowel to plant your potatoes one by one. You might find that the trowel method works better if you have fewer seed potatoes to plant.
Alternatively, you can plant your potatoes in containers. This is a great option if you are short on space, or have poor quality soil. You can use purpose built potato buckets, bags or any larger draining container.
Watering The Patotoes
Potatoes need plenty of water inorder to produce their best crop. Still, moist, not wet is the objective. Standing water can cause the potatoes to begin to rot. Pay extra attention if you have poor draining soil. The best time to water is in the morning. This avoids major evaporation from mid-day sun but still allows foliage to dry out before night fall which protects against fungus and disease.
Store-bought fertilizer will be labeled with a three number code that corresponds to the proportion of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) it contains. Nitrogen stimulates green leafy growth. While this is important for the health of any plant, you want your potatoes to focus their energy on producing new tubers (potatoes) underground rather than growing leaves above it. For that reason a lower nitrogen fertilizer is ideal. Select a fertilizer with a N-P-K of 5-10-10, 8-24-24 or 3-6-6.
Whatever portion of a potato’s stem is underground will produce potatoes. Inorder to coax a higher yield out of each plant, it is important to continue bury the stems of your potato plants as it grows. This process is called hilling. To do this, use a hoe to take some earth from between each row and pull it up to cover the stems around your plants. Cover them so only about 2 inches of foliage remains above the surface. Let your plants develop 6-8 inches of foliage before you hill-up for the first time. Expect to hill-up your potato patch 2-4 times before harvest; typically every 2-3 weeks. At a certain point, your hills will become too high and steep to continue the process any more. Woo! Now you can let your potatoes do their thing!
Flowering and fruiting
Towards the end of the growing potatoes season, your tomato plants may produce flowers that will sometimes turn into fruit. These are helpful guides that give you a clue as to how mature your potatoes are below the surface. Be mindful that the fruit look like sweet cherry tomatoes but are toxic along with the rest of the above ground portion of the plant.
Harvesting your potatoes
When To Harvest Potatoes – How Long Does It Take To Grow Potatoes
When you will harvest your potatoes depends on two main factors. First is the planting zone and the weather where you live. If your potatoes growing season started later because of the climate where you live or the particular weather this year, you will also harvest later. The other factor is the type of potatoes that you planted. Potato varieties can be divided into three harvest times: 1st early, 2nd early and maincrop.
- 1st Earlies: harvested at 10-12 weeks or when blooms begin to drop off plants
- 2nd earlies: harvested at 13-15 weeks or when blooms begin to drop off plants
- Maincrop: harvested at 20 weeks or when much of the foliage begins to die back and turn yellow.
Inorder to know when to harvest your potatoes, keep track of how many weeks they have been in the ground and keep an eye on the signs above ground.
How To Harvest Potatoes
- Stop watering your potatoes for two weeks before you plan to harvest them
- For main crop potatoes, first cut back foliage and leave the potatoes in the ground for 2 more weeks to harden the skin and make the potatoes more pantry stable. Skip this step for 1st and 2nd early potatoes.
- Use a garden fork, not a spade or shovel
- Start 12 to 18 inches out from the base of the plant to ensure that you don’t damage your crop
- Use a brush to clean the dirt off your potatoes rather than the garden hose. You want them to be dry before you store them.
- Leave them out to dry in a well ventilated place. You can dry them in the sun (unlike onions) but make sure that they don’t stay out for more than two days. If they stay out longer they begin to turn green and toxic.
- If the potatoes are grown in containers, simply tip over and dump out the entire container, then separate the potatoes from your potting mix. Still, be somewhat careful not to bruise your vegetables