Spuds are super simple to grow
Question: We'd like to grow potatoes in our garden this year. Can we just plant the ones from the grocery store, or do we have to buy special ones from a garden supply store? Also, I read online that I should cut them up before I plant them. How small should the pieces be? And how deep do they get planted?
Answer: Potatoes are a fun crop to grow and with just a little effort, you get big rewards. If you plant five pounds of seed potatoes, you'll be able to harvest between 20 to 30 pounds of mature potatoes a few short months later. But, there are some tips you should follow in order to improve your chances of success.
First, do not plant the potatoes you purchase at the grocery store; instead, buy small potatoes for planting — called seed potatoes — from a nursery or garden center. There are several reasons why you want to do this. The potatoes sold at the grocery store may be treated with a compound that prevents them from sprouting in the cupboard (which could also keep them from growing well in the garden). Also, the potatoes you buy at the grocery store may not be the best varieties for growing in a home garden. They are bred for mass production and increased storage, when what you want from a home garden are spuds that are flavorful, high-yielding, and easy to grow.
The most delicious potatoes for home gardeners are often the varieties you won't find on the grocery shelf. Some of my favorites include “German Butterball,” “Mountain Rose,” “All Blue,” and “Kennebec.” And a third and final reason not to plant potatoes from the grocery store is that they many not be free of viruses and other plant pathogens. When purchased from a reputable source, seed potatoes, on the other hand, are certified pathogen free.
Once you purchase the seed potatoes, cut them into one-inch chunks, making sure that each chunk has at least one “eye” (or growing point). The eyes look like small dimples in the skin of the potato. Use a sharp, clean knife to make the cuts, then let the cut seed potato pieces sit on the counter in the kitchen for 12-24 hours before planting. This gives them time to seal the cut sites with callous tissue, lessening the chance of rot or disease.
Plant seed potatoes about 4 inches deep and about 10 to 12 inches apart in well-drained garden soil that's been amended with some compost. The plants won't need to be fertilized during the season, but they will have to be watered during times of drought.
When the plants are about 6-inches tall, mound or hill up several inches of soil around each of the plants. This buries more stem tissue, creating a larger underground surface area where the tubers can develop and increasing the yields of your potato patch.
Other than watering, you can pretty much ignore the plants for most of the growing season. In late summer, the leaves will begin to yellow and the stems will start to die back. Wait until two weeks after the plants are completely dead to dig up and harvest the tubers beneath them. Digging the potatoes out too early means their skin has not cured and their storage life will be reduced.
Store unwashed harvested potatoes in a dark cupboard or cardboard box in a basement or other cool, dry storage area. With proper storage, you'll be able to enjoy your homegrown spuds for many months.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.