How to Grow Potatoes At Home

By on April 26, 2013

One of the easiest plants to grow in your vegetable garden is the potato.  Potatoes are wonderful because they can be grown just about anywhere in the country.  If you are in a terribly hot climate then you’ll grow them in the winter while the cooler climates will grow them in the summer.  They are also a  staple in many cultures and can be widely used in the kitchen, despite that many home gardeners forget to plant them. So let’s look at how to grow potatoes at home.

Many people believe that a potato is a potato and maybe they are in grocery stores, but when planting potatoes at home you have a large number of varieties to choose from.  There are potatoes of every color, shape, size, texture and property.  It is always a good idea to have at least one variety of potato and one variety of sweet potato in your garden.  If you like sweet potatoes then you should also think about adding yams to your garden because they taste a lot like sweet potatoes.

Different Types of Potatoes to Grow

The Yukon Gold potato is a good all purpose potato that can be baked, broiled, grilled and just about anything else you need to do during cooking.  This is one of the most common potatoes grown by backyard gardeners.  The Purple Peruvian is another all purpose potato, but it may not be a good idea to grow it if you plan on guests eating your potatoes.  People are a little wary of a potato with a big purple spot in the middle.  Starchy potatoes shouldn’t be used in dishes like potato salad that have to keep their shape, but they are wonderful for baking or mashing.  Starchy potatoes would include the Idaho Russet and the Katahdin.  Waxy potatoes are great for grilling or roasting, but shouldn’t be used in soups.  Examples of waxy potatoes includes the Red Bliss, New Potatoes, the Adirondack Blue, the Adirondack Red, Fingerlings, Carola, Inca Gold, Rose Gold,  and the Purple Viking.  If your garden is small then your best option is an all purpose potato, but if you have the room then you should certainly try a variety of different potatoes.

Don’t Forget Sweet Potatoes

There are also a variety of sweet potatoes to choose from.  The Beauregard is a popular sweet potato because it has high yields with very little cracking.  It also stores very well outside of refrigeration.  There is less variation in type in sweet potatoes.  The outside or the inside of the potato may look different, but the inside is generally close to the same in taste.  Some varieties are more suited for certain conditions, though.  For instance, if you are in a cooler climate then you are better off planting a Georgia Jet sweet potato than a Beauregard because the Georgia Jet is resistant to cold.

How To Grow Potatoes

When you plant potatoes choose an area that you can trench.  If you have a small area then you will probably have to dig it out by hand.  At the bottom of the trench mix in organic matter such as well aged compost.  The trench needs to be about four inches deep after you put in the compost, so the initial trench should be between six and eight inches deep.  Your potatoes should be cut into pieces with about two eyes per a piece.  Place the eyes facing upwards in the trench about one foot apart.  Once your potato pieces are laid out in the trench fill it back in with the dirt.  If you did this right then you’ll see a slight hill in the ground where the trench is.  This is what they call a potato hill.

Hill Up Your Potatoes

Every two to three weeks you will need to hill up your potatoes.  This is done by going out with a hoe and pushing dirt up around the plant.  The goat is to only leave the leaves out of the dirt.  If you don’t hill your potatoes they could get sunburn.  In the case of the potato sunburn is will turn the potato green and make it taste extremely bitter.  Hilling the potato plant will also provide it with additional support and it will be less likely to be damaged in bad weather such as heavy winds or hail.

Potatoes Are Picky About Their Soil and Watch Out For Pests

Potatoes are easy to plant and take care of, but they are also picky about their soil.  Potatoes do better in loose, sandy soil according to the experts; there are people who have had bumper potato crops in clay though.  The pH of the soil is important.  If it is too high then the potatoes could develop a condition called potato scab.  This plant disease can be prevented by dusting your potato trench with sulfur before  it is filled in.  Aphids and leaf beetles are also a concern.  As with many pests the best offense is a good defense.  If you know that the pest problem is going to be bad in you are that year then it might be wise to order a genetically altered sweet potato variety that is made to resist bugs.  Organic gardeners will need to choose the right predators to promote in their potato fields to combat bugs.  Preying mantis and toads can help in the management of pests.  Some people have had good luck letting their chickens in their garden once or twice a week, but chickens can easily damage plants and should not be allowed in the garden for long periods of time or without supervision.

Short on Space? You Can Grow Potatoes Anywhere

If you are strapped for space then you might consider planting low plants around the hills.  Look for things with short harvest times to plant in between your potatoes—lettuce and spinach is a good option.  You can plant things with a longer harvest time, but be sure that it won’t grow tall enough to block the light to your potatoes.  By planting plants around plants in your garden you will increase the amount of produce you grow while depriving weeds of light.  The only draw back to planting around your potatoes is that you may have to add compost to the soil between each harvest of your non-potato plants.

Potatoes can also be grown in garbage cans for those really strapped for space.  A regular black trash can can be used, but you’ll need to cut holes in the bottom of the container for drainage.  A good idea is to put two or three inches of rock in the bottom of the barrel.  Then add a mix of compost, dirt and sand to the barrel until it’s about three fourths of the way full.  You can put about four potato starts in the barrel with the eyes face up and spaced about equally apart.  Cover the potatoes with the dirt mixture.  Be sure to leave the lid off of the can and to water it at least twice daily.  You will still need to hill your potatoes because your plant needs sunlight to grow, but you don’t want your plants to get sunburned.

If you are in a wet climate then you might consider growing your potatoes in the garden with wire mesh.  Secure the wire mesh so it form a cylinder.  Treat it just like the trashcan.  This method will allow your plants to grow outdoors, but it will keep them from drowning in severe spring rains.  A raised bed will help with drainage, but if your ground stays soaked all spring long then you probably don’t want your potatoes planted there.

No Dig Potato Planting

If you have a bad back and all of this digging and hilling scares you then there is another, less used, method of growing potatoes.  You don’t dig at all.  Lay a layer of compost on the are where you are putting your potatoes.  Then place all of the your potato starts on the ground with the eyes facing up.  Finally, cover the whole area with a thick layer of straw.  In the fall there isn’t even any digging to get your potatoes out of the ground.  You should not even attempt this method if you live in an area with frequent high winds because the straw will blow away.

Don’t Forget to Rotate Your Crops

An important aspect of getting good vegetable crops each year is to rotate you crops.  Potatoes are no exception.  You never want to move your potatoes into a bed that had tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants in it the previous year.  You should not move any of those plants into a bed that had potatoes the previous year.  These plants are all part of the nightshade family and can share pests and diseases.  When you rotate the crops you end the cycle of disease and the insects emerge in spring to no food.  While the bugs may not die off completely they will be significantly decreased that year.  The straw method of growing potatoes works well with crop rotation because the straw left behind will help booster the soil the next year for the spring plantings.

When to Harvest

If you walk out and all of your potatoes look dead then it’s time to harvest them.  Potato vines will dry up about late August and will need to be dug up immediately.  If the potatoes are left in the ground long after the vines dry up they could rot.  Be sure to dig gently or you might damage the potatoes with your shovel.  Brush the dirt off of the potatoes, but do not wash them.  Potatoes should never be washed until right before you use them.

Storing Your Potatoes

Potatoes should be stored in a dark, dry place between thirty and forty degrees Fahrenheit.  Never store potatoes with apples because the apples can cause the potatoes to rot.  Another good option is to slice your potatoes and dehydrate them.  This is good if you plan on using them in soup for flavor and don’t have the room to store them whole.

So Let’s Get Into It

Common ways that potatoes are prepared are for them to be mashed, baked, or cut into french fries.  A great way to appreciate your garden is to make them into hash browns and mix them with pieces of onions, peppers, tomatoes, and greens.  When covered in cheese this can make  delicious dish from your beautiful garden.  Potatoes can also be wonderful grilled.  If you stab the potato with a knife, wash it, and wrap it in tin foil then it comes off the grill tasting even better than if it was baked. You will find that when you plant relatively few potato starts that you get a lot of potatoes in the fall.  So now that you’ve read through how to grow potatoes, don’t forget to include them in your garden!

Here are some other articles around the web on how to grow potatoes

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