planting potatoes: a beginner's guide

friends, i am so excited to share a new series coming to my blog! 

throughout the seasons, my husband will be joining me in this space to share his gardening knowledge with you! he is a horticulturalist & full-time farmer with a passion for sustainable agriculture. luke will be guiding you through specific topics in gardening & homesteading! i can't wait for you to learn from him!

Hi, this is Luke here. I’m a horticulturist by training and love talking about gardening. We hope these posts are helpful and inspiring for you.

A few weeks ago Natalie and I planted potatoes – on St. Patrick’s Day, in fact! For our region (hardiness zone 6b), St. Pattie’s Day is a sign that it’s time to plant potatoes.

We usually pick up seed potatoes from our local farmers’ co-op. They’re called seed potatoes because they are meant to be used for planting, even though they are really just potatoes. There are some seed companies that sell organic seed potatoes if that’s what you want, but the potatoes at your local co-op or seed store will be much cheaper and work just as well.

We like to get a variety of colors, at least one red and one white. Last year we bought purple seed potatoes, which grew beautiful, round purple-fleshed tubers, but the yield was not as high as the standard red or white varieties. ‘Yukon Gold’ and ‘Pontiac’ are two varieties I usually go with. Each seed potato will yield about four seed pieces, since you cut them up. And you want to be sure to get healthy, firm potatoes that haven’t sprouted yet. If your seed potatoes have sprouted, though, you just need to plant them soon – and be careful not to break off those little sprouts!

Standard row spacing is 10-12 inches between seed pieces and 24-36 inches between rows. Figure out how long your rows will be before going out to buy seed potatoes. Since you’ll cut each seed potato into four pieces, a single potato will cover 3.5 to 4 feet of row. You might not need to buy as many as you think!

When you get the potatoes home, cut each one into four pieces, making sure to leave an “eye” on each seed piece. The eye is that little notch in the skin where the new shoot will sprout. You want to cut the potatoes soon before you plant and not leave them sitting around too long.

You’ll want to make sure you garden bed is well prepared before planting. Add compost, fertilizer, and lime (if you need it) before you plant. 

Also do a good job of pulling out or hoeing weeds before the potatoes go in. Potatoes like warm, well-drained soil so using a broadfork or digging fork to loosen the soil and create a bit of a raised bed will help. Wait until the soil begins to warm and dry out in the spring before planting. Potatoes sitting in cold, damp soil will just rot.

We like to dig a shallow trench with the corner of a hoe for our planting row. The trench should be around 3 inches deep. Then you can just drop your seed pieces into the trench at 10-12 inches apart and walk along the row at a fast pace. Follow up by raking the soil back over the potatoes and you’re done!

Make sure to keep your potato rows watered and you should be seeing green shoot poking out of the soil in a few weeks. It might take longer if you’re experiencing a cool spring, but be patient. After the new shoots get a few inches tall, begin to hill up soil around them while still leaving the top leaves exposed. Keep hilling gradually until the ridge is 4-6 inches high. At this point you can mulch the ground around the potato tops with straw mulch to keep the soil moist and cool during the summer. You want the soil temperature to stay between 60 and 70 degrees for maximum potato growth, so the goal is to let the soil warm in the spring and keep it cool during the summer.

Following these steps, you should be ready to dig potatoes after 90-120 days! Be sure to keep them well watered and watch for pests like the Colorado potato beetle. If you’re unsure whether or not to dig the potatoes, you can uncover soil around the base of one of the stems and see if there are little potatoes down there. You can always harvest some early as “new potatoes,” which are extra tender and delicious!

Potatoes are a good, dependable crop and something the family will be sure to eat. Natalie and I harvested a few bushels of potatoes from our garden last year and ate on them for months. And they’ll keep well in a pantry or root cellar. 

Happy potato planting!
- Luke


Kristin Eldridge said...

So excited for this series. Been gardening for a few years and need to learn so much! Thanks!

Madelyn said...

YAY! I am so glad this series is happening. I'm pinning this post to refer to next year. Thanks, Luke!

Cate said...

Very excited to learn from Luke! Gardening is hard work, but so rewarding. I planted potatoes for the first time last year. Digging them up was like a treasure hunt!

Misti said...

Potatoes have been one crop we've failed at. I hope one day we'll figure out what's wrong in our garden for the failure!

Katie @ sweet pea's said...

I love that your hubby is doing a little gardening series! We're currently living in Las Vegas (so not a lot of gardening to be done here) but am stock piling ideas and notes for when we move back to Texas!


Natalie @ Being Mrs.Olson said...

So fantastic for your hubby to join the blog! I can't wait to learn more about gardening, as we are hoping to have some space when we buy a house this summer. Can't wait to see your posts filled with things GROWING!

Kira Bronaugh said...

Whenever I get potatoes at the store they only last a few weeks in the pantry... How do your last months?

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