Calendar Spring 2015 is now firmly underway. You may be in a locale where “spring” won’t actually be sprung for another month or so – depending upon your growing zone, you may not yet have approached final frost. But can you start your vegetable garden now? Sure. Just start with potatoes!
Potatoes are well-known for being cold-weather hardy, and because they’re planted relatively deeply in the soil, they miss the most severe effects of frost. Potatoes can either be grown from seed, or seed potatoes can be put directly into the ground. Because it’s so easy (and fun!) to plant seed potatoes, we’ll be discussing this method. (It’s the perfect way for a novice gardener to see results, too.)
Seed potatoes require some time to be “ready”; you’ll need to store your potatoes in a dry, dark locale until they form “eyes.” DO NOT prep your seed potatoes in the refrigerator; the coolness will delay sprouting time. Be sure to keep your seed potatoes away from light. They’ll need to be warmed up slightly before planting, so approximately a week before you plan to put your potatoes into the ground, move them to a dark location that’s about 60-70F if possible.
When the eyes are well-established, it’s time to put your seed potatoes into the ground.
Choose a loose, loamy soil. You can either plant the entire seed potato(for smaller potatoes, generally) or, as many gardeners prefer, cut the potato so that there are two to three eyes in each section and then plant the individual sections. Plant approximately 2-3″ deep into the ground, placing them cut-side down (if you’re using cut potato sections). Tip: Dig a hole about 6″ deep and fill with 3″ of good soil or compost.
For your best yield, “hill” the potatoes after the stems have grown 4-6″ above the ground. This is an easy step: simply pile soil or compost around the stems of the emerging plants. Hilling encourages new growth and tends to yield, overall, more potatoes over the course of your growing season.
Generally, potatoes are ready for harvesting 70-100 days after planting; check your own variety, as the time frame will vary. You will notice the leaves of your plants turning yellow and appearing to die back. Wait 2-3 weeks after you begin to notice this change in order to “toughen” the skins before harvesting the potatoes. (This is perfect for baking potatoes, but it’s a necessary step for storage later in virtually any variety in order to prevent broken or bruised skin.) Using a spade, pitchfork or your own gloved hands, dig around the base of the plant and bring up the potato or potatoes underneath.
Potatoes are best stored in a dark locale. Keeping things cool will give you a longer storage time. Enjoy!
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