Text by Rose Willow for the March/April 2015 issue of Horticulture
Grow potatoes at home for an easy, tasty harvest. Potatoes prefer cool climates, being rated to USDA Zones 2–7, and they can be planted soon after the last spring frost. (They can be grown as a winter crop in warmer areas.) The Manitoba (Canada) Agricultural Board advises potato growers to use a deep, well-drained, easily crumbled and fertile soil. Organic fertilizer and/or compost can be added to improve soil structure and fertility.
Plant potatoes in small gardens by making a trench with a hand-held hoe or digging individual holes with a spade or fork. Plants should sit about 12 inches apart. Put in some organic fertilizer before backfilling the trench or hole. Be cautious about overwatering. A saturated soil reduces the potato tuber’s ability to breathe, and it could lead to reduced yield and poor quality.
You can grow potatoes from home-produced planting stock, it is highly recommended to use certified seed potatoes every year for disease control. Favorite heirloom varieties include ‘Russian Banana’, a fingerling; ‘Orchestra’, a white potato; and ‘Norkotah’, a russet.
Containers in which to grow potatoes should have a capacity of 10 gallons or more, a depth of 15 to 18 inches and good drainage. Storebought containers and discarded pails work equally well, and there are also specially designed reusable potato-grow bags.
For container-grown potatoes, a good potting soil is necessary, be it store-bought or mixed at home. A mix of multipurpose compost and coarse sand will work. Leaves, straw and grass clippings can be added as the plants grow taller. Seaweed works wonderfully well for those who live near the ocean.
When harvesting potatoes, use a garden fork and try not to injure them. Bruises and cuts can develop into storage rot. Exposure to light can cause a bitter tasting build-up of food chemicals that are poisonous. Dry potatoes in a shaded area for no longer than a few hours before moving them into storage. A good place will be dark, with good ventilation and a temperature of approximately 39˚F. Most basements are too warm.
Image credit: Yvonne Duivenvoorden / Radius Images / Getty Images