It’s almost potato planting time! Growing potatoes is easy, even if you have limited garden space. Read on to discover all you need to know about how to grow potatoes.
Potatoes are a relatively easy crop to grow, and can do well in many different climates. You can successfully grow potatoes in containers on a balcony or roof garden, and they also do great in a hay bale garden!
Here are some tips for growing great potatoes this year:
Choosing Your Variety
There are so many different varieties of potato that it would be impossible to list them all here. Potatoes come in many different interesting colors – from red, to white, to yellow, and purple. When it comes to growing them though, the main difference is how long they take to grow before they are ready to harvest.
In cooler climates you can choose from early varieties (early summer), second earlies (summer) or main crop potatoes (late summer to early fall). In warmer climates like USDA 7 and 8, choose early varieties that will be ready before the weather turns too hot for them. In very warm climates, you may even be able to plant in September to harvest during the winter.
In temperate climates such as the UK or USDA zone 3-6, you could go for earlies if you want to grow something else in the spot later, or you could grow all three types if you have the space, and wish to extend your potato harvest. If you do this, be sure to mark the plots carefully so that you know which potatoes to dig when.
Chitting is a planting preparation method that encourages seed potatoes to sprout before they are planted. It helps you to weed out any that fail as well as speeding up the maturing process in the ground.
If you choose to use the chitting method, you will need to start about 6 weeks before planting, which would be in January or February for most climates.
To start the chitting process, prepare dry trays or egg boxes in a place that gets plenty of light, like a window sill. Look at the seed potatoes and you will see that one end is more rounded and has several ‘eyes’ which will sprout. Stand the potatoes in the trays with this end pointing up.
The shoots should grow to between half an inch and an inch by the time you are ready to plant.
Planting In The Garden
Dig trenches for growing potatoes about 4 inches deep (a little bigger for large varieties, smaller for small varieties). Add a little fertilizer or compost.
Plant the potatoes with the sprouts pointing upward, about a foot apart. Replace the earth around them carefully to avoid breaking the sprouts.
Keep an eye on the beds and each time the sprouts appear above ground, pile earth onto them so that they are buried. Repeat this several times until you have a mound about 6 inches high.
If you are growing potatoes in hay or straw bales, plant by pushing the seed potatoes 4-6 inches down into the bales, then cover them over with hay/straw. After planting, place a 1″ layer of aged compost on top of the bales, and water well.
Potatoes can be harvested from the time that the flowers open (new potatoes), but you can choose to leave them longer. They should all be harvested well before the first frost, or before the weather turns very hot if you are in a Southern climate.
If you are planning to store your potatoes rather than eating them right away, cut off the above-ground growth two weeks before you dig them up. This will harden the skins, helping them to store better. (This will happen naturally if you let the plants die all the way down and turn brown, but if you have problems with pests like voles or mice, or if you need the garden space for something else, you may wish to dig them sooner.)
Growing Potatoes In Bags
Potatoes can be grown in containers or even in plastic bags. You will need strong bags like the ones that compost is supplied in. Put in a layer of good quality compost to about one-quarter full and make drainage holes in the bottom of the bag. Then place three chitted potatoes in the bag with sprouts upward and cover them with more compost.
Water the potatoes regularly and keep burying the shoots with more compost as they appear. After about 3 months the potatoes will be ready. Cut the bag open (or empty it into a container if you want to reuse the bag) and remove your potatoes from the compost.
Store your potatoes in cardboard boxes or paper bags (never plastic!), in a cool, slightly humid place. If you have a root cellar that is ideal. Otherwise a dark closet or basement will suffice. Check often and remove any potatoes that show signs of rot. With proper storage methods, most potatoes will keep for 4-6 months.