Photo by jonny2love under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Photo by kirsty hall under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Photo by Digital Sextant under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
For centuries potatoes have been a food staple in many countries due to both their their nutritional value and their versatility in the kitchen. Between the economic slump and the expensive prices of organically grown vegetables, home grown crops are more popular than ever.
Growing potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) in your own backyard is healthy, inexpensive, and suprisingly easy. Plus vegetable gardeners swear by the fresh flavor that only a home grown crop can offer! A large space is unnecessary — a whopping eighty pounds of potatoes can be produced from just ten square feet of garden space.
Keep these tips in mind for a hearty potato crop:
- Certified disease free seed potatoes. You can mail order these or buy them at a local nursery. Don’t use potatoes from the grocery store as they are not certified disease-free.
- Potatoes like a compost-rich soil that’s well-drained and slightly acidic as it reduces the chance of scab (a potato tuber disease).
- A soil amendment can be added if desired, but don’t add fresh manure as it causes scabs. Use a compost or composted manure.
How to Plant Potatoes
Seed potatoes can be planted whole or they can be cut into chunks called “sets”. Potato sets need to have 2-3 eyes on them. Let the sets air out for a day or two so that the cut areas dry out a bit before planting. Sets need to be placed “cut side down” into the ground.
Potatoes should be planted in full sun 3″-5″ deep; about 6″-10″ apart; in rows that are 3′ apart. As the plants grow you “hill” (pile) soil, leaves, straw, or compost over them to keep the tubers covered keeping them unexposed to the sun. To encourage tuber growth, leave a little bit of the plant sticking out of the hill.
For an early harvest, plant potatoes in the early spring. You can get a second harvest by planting sets again in mid-May to mid- June and if you live in a mild climate, a third planting can be done in the fall for a spring harvest.
Proven Potato Cultivars
- ‘Gold Rush’ is a great baking potato.
- ‘Norgold’s Russet’ is good for baking.
- ‘Red LaSoda’ is good for warm climates.
- ‘Kennebec’ is flavorful and stores well.
- ‘Yellow Finn’ has a buttery taste and is great for baking.
- ‘Yukon Gold’ is large and flavorful.
- ‘Red Sun’ is smooth and full of flavor.
When potato plants begin to blossom, stop hilling the soil over the tubers. You can add some mulch to help retain moisture and keep the crop watered. For the best flavor, harvest the potatoes when they’re young (while the plants are flowering).
When the tops of the plants die, mature potatoes are ready to harvest. If you leave the mature ones underground for a couple of weeks their skins will “set” and they’ll store longer. This is one harvest that’s best left to the kids in your home or neighborhood — they have a blast searching for the “buried treasure.”
Want more on potatoes? Check out The Benefits of Growing Potatoes in Containers
* When the tubers are exposed to sun, the potatoes turn green and may develop solanine (a slightly toxic alkaloid).
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