OUR TOP 4 POTATO GROWING TIPS
Potatoes are one of the first vegetables to get planted in our spring vegetable garden. And while they're actually planted in late winter, they'll grow throughout the spring and be harvested in the early summer months. Potato planting is always a welcomed event that tells us that spring is right around the corner.
Potatoes are considered a warm-season vegetable because they won't tolerate freezing temps, but they also don't like really hot temperatures. When summer temperatures arrive, potato plants will start to die. When this happens, it's time to harvest your potatoes. Below we'll tell you why you should grow potatoes, dispel a few potato-growing myths, and give you our top four tips for growing potatoes.
Why Should You Grow Potatoes?
Although potatoes are relatively cheap at the grocery store, there are plenty of reasons to grow potatoes in the backyard garden. First, they're one of the easiest vegetables to grow. Even an inexperienced, beginner gardener can be successful with potatoes.
Additionally, potato planting and potato harvesting is a fun time for the entire family to enjoy. It's a great way to get the kids outside and involved in the garden. And they'll be so excited when it's time to harvest them!
Growing your own potatoes also means that you can grow varieties that you won't find at the grocery store. Seed potato suppliers like Wood Prairie Farm have many specialty varieties that are beautiful, delicious, and unlike anything you'll find at your local grocer.
Finally, growing your own potatoes means you know how they were grown. This applies to everything in the backyard garden and is the primary reason that gardeners like to grow their own food. When you grow them yourself, you know exactly what's been used to grow them. You know what was used to fertilize them and what (if any) sprays were used on them.
Potato Varieties We're Growing This Year
As is the case with many of the vegetables we grow in our backyard garden plots, we like to plant many different varieties of potatoes. We like colorful potatoes, big potatoes, little potatoes -- we've never met a potato we didn't like! We also like to plant potatoes with different maturity dates. This keeps us from having to harvest all our potatoes at one time. Instead, we can harvest each variety, a row at a time, as it matures.
The early-maturing varieties we're planting this year are Caribe and Red Viking. Caribe is a great variety for beginner gardeners because it matures fast and is more forgiving if you plant potatoes later in spring. Red Viking is a large red potato that we grew last year and was the most productive variety in our 2021 trials.
The mid-maturing varieties we're planting are Huckleberry Gold, Baltic Rose, and Kennebec. Huckleberry Gold is a purple-skinned potato with a beautiful yellow flesh. Baltic Rose is another yellow-fleshed potato, but with a red exterior. Kennebec is a yearly favorite of ours as it makes large potatoes that are great for making fries.
The late-maturing varieties that you can find in our garden this year are Keuka Gold and German Butterball. We've grown plenty of Yukon Gold potatoes in the past, so we're excited to try Keuka Gold to see how it compares to one of our favorites. German Butterball is a tried-and-true variety for us that makes smaller potatoes. They have a buttery flavor and texture that makes them one of our favorite roasting potatoes.
Indeterminate vs. Determinate Potatoes
You might have seen videos or photos of gardeners growing "potato towers." They do this by planting a seed potato and continually adding soil (or straw) to the plants as they grow. And when they harvest these potato towers, they get a huge strand of potatoes because the potatoes have continued to grow as more soil or straw was added.
What these videos or photos don't tell you is that you can't do this in every climate or growing zone. As mentioned above, potatoes bite the dust when daytime temperatures get really hot. As a result, this potato tower technique doesn't work very well in the southern states. It does work well in areas or zones with mild summers.
If you're going to try the potato tower technique, make sure to use a "late-maturing" potato variety. In areas with mild summers, these late-maturing varieties are often called "indeterminate" potato varieties. This is because they will continue to grow in mild climates as long as soil is added alongside the plants.
Early-maturing potato varieties are often called "determinate" potatoes. But the determinate and indeterminate distinction here is not the same as tomatoes. Late-maturing potatoes can only be indeterminate if your summer temperatures are relatively mild. If you live in a southern climate, an "indeterminate" potato is simply one that will be harvested a couple weeks later than the other varieties you plant.
Cutting and Chitting Potatoes
Should you plant whole potatoes or potato pieces? We always cut ours, but you can certainly be successful planting whole potatoes like the commercial potato farmers do. Cutting potatoes into seed pieces will make your seed stock stretch farther. Usually 5 lbs of seed potatoes cut into pieces (1-2 eyes per piece) will be enough to plant a 30' row of potatoes.
If you do cut your potatoes, make sure to allow 3-4 days for the flesh on the cut pieces to heal or "suberize" before planting. This will prevent rotting at planting and also help to prevent fungal diseases from entering the cut potatoes. Some gardeners will coat the cut potatoes with lime or sulfur, which also works well to protect them.
"Chitting" is the process of allowing your seed potatoes or seed potato pieces to form sprouts prior to planting. Many gardeners will lay their seed potatoes on a towel or place them in egg cartons and wait for sprouts to appear. While this certainly does help give your seed potatoes a head start, it's not completely necessary. We never chit our potatoes, and they usually always sprout a few weeks after planting.
Top 4 Potato Growing Tips
1) Planting Time
Aim to plant your potatoes about two weeks prior to your average last frost date. Given that potatoes usually take about 2-3 weeks to show signs of vegetation above the soil, this will allow you to take advantage of the cooler part of the spring growing season. Timely potato planting is important. If you plant too late, the heat will zap the plants before they've had the chance to make any decent-sized potatoes.
Potatoes are one of the least thirsty vegetable crops that we grow. They don't need near as much water as something like corn or onions. As such, we don't use drip irrigation on potatoes. We simply water ours with an overhead tripod sprinkler when the leaves look a little thirsty. Don't saturate the soils as this can cause the potatoes to rot. Give them enough water to keep the leaves and plants upright, but don't overwater.
Unless you have absolutely perfect, fertile garden soil, potatoes will benefit from some level of fertilization. We like to use a somewhat balanced fertilizer on potatoes with close-to-equal proportions of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. This year we're using Nature Safe 8-5-5 fertilizer. Place your granular fertilizer of choice in the furrow at planting, then fertilize twice more -- at the first and second hilling events.
Some gardeners will say that hilling isn't necessary at all, especially when growing early-maturing potato varieties. And it may not be completely necessary. But the act of pulling soil towards the potato plants definitely helps with in-row weed control. Adding soil along the row will bury any weeds and keeps your potatoes from competing with those weeds for nutrients. Adding soil along the row also protects the potatoes from becoming exposed during periods of heavy rainfall. This will keep your potatoes from turning green due to sun exposure.
It's Tater Time!
If you're a beginner gardener, hopefully we've encouraged you to grow potatoes in your own backyard garden. If you're an experienced gardener, we hope some of these tips will help to improve your potato harvests. Either way, potatoes are something that should be in every spring garden. Whether you're planting just a few spuds or an entire row, we hope you have a bountiful potato harvest!