Growing potatoes in your vegetable garden
Potatoes are a year-round staple for many families around the world. Potatoes come in over a hundred varietals in all kinds of sizes, shapes, colors and flavors. There is a potato to suit almost everyone’s taste. The edible part of a potato, the tuber, grows underground and is a part of the stem system. The leaves, stems and flowers that grow above ground cannot be eaten. Potatoes are a cool-season crop and varieties can be planted that you can enjoy nearly all season long.
Soil conditions for growing potatoes
Potatoes aren’t as finicky as many vegetables when it comes to soil conditions, but they do best in well-drained, fertile soil. Compact soil can be especially problematic for potatoes. The soil pH level should be 5.0 to 5.5 for best crop production. Do not add large amounts of organic matter to the soil as it may contribute to potato scab, a disease that frequently infects potatoes. As a cool season vegetable, potatoes can tolerate a few light frosts and actually need cooler soil temperatures (between 60-to 70 degrees) to properly mature and form tubers. If the soil temperatures rise to over 80 degrees, you will probably see little, if any, tuber formation.
How to Plant Potatoes
Potatoes will be one of the first vegetables you can plant in the spring. To determine when you can plant, find out your areas last frost date (go to: http://boldweb.com/gw/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=28&Itemid=25 ). Potatoes are not started from seed or seedlings but from cut pieces of seed potatoes. Do not use potatoes from the grocery store because these have usually been sprayed to inhibit eye growth. Additionally, do not use potatoes from an earlier crop, as they may contain unknown diseases that could infect your new crop.
You should buy certified seed potatoes that are found in garden centers or nurseries. If the potato is whole and large, cut it into approximately 2 inch pieces; each piece needs to have at least one eye. After cutting, you need to let the pieces sit for a couple of days in a cool, humid location. This will give the potato time to heal, or form a scab over it, which protects it from rotting when planted in the ground. If you buy small seed potatoes, you do not need to cut them prior to planting. When getting ready to plant your potatoes use a spade to hoe a small trench, or furrow, about 4 inches deep and as long as your space allows. You can work in an all-purpose fertilizer into the soil prior to planting.
Place one potato piece at the bottom of the trench with the eye facing upward. The eye will sprout and become the plant. Spacing should be about 10-12 inches apart. Rows should be between 2 to 3 feet apart from each other.
How to Take Care of Potato Plants
Potatoes do well in consistently moist (not wet) soil. They should receive about an inch to an inch and a half of water per week. If they do not receive adequate moisture from rainfall, you will need to hand water them. After your potato plants start to grow, you can add some soil, mulch, or straw around the base of the plant to form a hill. This will encourage new tuber growth and can help to prevent green potatoes.
Potato leafhoppers are wedge-shaped, 1/8-inch long, green, active insects. They use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to remove sap from the potato leaf. These small insects fly readily.
Because of their small size and habit of feeding on the underside of the leaf, they are easily overlooked. The symptom of leafhopper activity is more apparent – a triangular brown spot at the tip of the leaf. Similar triangles may appear at the end of each lateral veinlet or the entire margin may roll upward as though scorched. These symptoms are known as “hopperburn”. Other conditions may produce similar symptoms. Check the underside of leaves for the tiny leafhoppers to confirm that they are the cause of the problem [1,1].
An insecticide may need to be used for these pests.
Flea beetles are small usually black beetles that are often difficult to spot due to their size and their inclination to quickly jump away when disturbed. These pests chew holes through the leaves of plants. When present in large numbers they can cause the plant leaves to wilt and decreased crop production.
Harvesting and storage of Potatoes
Traditionally, potatoes are harvested in the fall, or about 90-120 days after planting. An outward sign that your potatoes are ready to harvest is when the entire above-ground plant is brown and dried out; it will look like it is dead. If you are unsure if the potatoes are ready for harvesting, you can check one plant by digging up the tubers with a pitchfork to see if they are mature.
When you are harvesting your potatoes, be careful not to pierce the potatoes with the fork; these damaged potatoes will not keep (you can eat them for dinner that night!) Using either a pitchfork or a shovel is the easiest way to gather the potatoes.
Potatoes can be stored throughout the winter months if kept in a very cool (30s or 40s), humid and dark place.
Want to learn more about growing potatoes?
To learn more about growing potatoes in your home garden, visit the Ohio State University Extension fact sheet about Growing Potatoes in the Home Garden.
Read more about Growing Potatoes from the Clemson Cooperative Extension.
Consider a potato grow bag, which can make growing potatoes a lot easier and more efficient.