It took a couple of tries to get my potatoes right, but once I did, they were one of my favorite crops to grow and harvest. They were also my kids’ favorites because Drew and Alyssa had so much fun digging for them! I’m definitely doing potatoes again and expanding to do more.
My first try: fail
Last spring we had an incredibly wet and cold spring. Ideally, from what I read, potatoes should be planted between February 14 – March 1 here in Arkansas. My problem was the soil simply wouldn’t dry out. I decided to plant them anyway in late March, but because the soil was so wet, they rotted in the ground.
After this, Matt ended up tilling a new garden in a better-drained area of the yard where I tried again. This time, it worked perfectly.
4/16/13: planted 15 Yukon Gold potato pieces
5/9/13: 10 plants emerged (followed later by the other 5)
6/1/13: flower buds emerged
7/5/13: harvested tennis-ball sized potatoes
8/2/13: planted Red Norland potatoes and Kennebec (white) potatoes left over from failed spring planting, and planted small Yukon gold potatoes from spring harvest
11/20/13: harvested mostly red potatoes
I believe my potatoes did really well because I ended up planting them in a well-drained location and the acidity of my soil is so low. (A soil test yielded a pH of 4.9, and potatoes thrive at 5-6.)
The Colorado Potato beetle showed up early in the season when the plants were about 1′ high. These yellow and black striped bugs were easy to spot. I diligently picked them off one by one and fed them to the chickens, though they still were able to lay their eggs. The eggs are bright yellow clusters on the underside of the leaves, and I took care of those by squishing them (with garden gloves on, of course!). Later into the season I simply wasn’t able to keep up with the egg-squishing and the eggs would hatch into tiny red bugs. It was these baby beetles that wreaked the most havoc on the plant. The adults did little damage compared to their progeny. I tried Sevin dust but it really didn’t help and I wanted to keep my garden as close to organic as possible. I tried diatomaceous earth, too, but that didn’t help. This year I will simply work to be more diligent at hand-picking the adults and eggs, and the kids will help. They loved spotting the beetles and the eggs.
My fall planting did not have any problems with the Colorado Potato beetle, so the fall was the easiest crop by far in that respect.
For the beginner
Planting the potato pieces are easy. Always buy them at a garden center, as the ones at the store are sprayed with an anti-sprouting agent. Cut the pieces with at least two eyes on each piece. Make sure the soil is loose (by tilling or hoeing), and place the pieces eye-side-up about 4″ deep. Cover with soil, and do not water until the plants emerge a couple of weeks later.
Next, do an Internet search on what an emerging potato plant looks like. I tried to unsuccessfully pull one up, thinking it was a weed! Then I decided it might be a potato plant, and it was! When the plant is about 6″ high, take a hoe and “hill” dirt around the plant. Then add mulch to conserve moisture as the plant is growing.
Water until the plant flowers, and after that it doesn’t need much water. Once the plant flowers, the tubers (future potatoes) start to form. You know the potatoes are ready to be dug up when the plants start to die back.
How many to plant
Each of my plants produced about 4 potatoes, some smaller, some larger, and I liked that I didn’t have to harvest them all at once, meaning I was able to have fresh potatoes for weeks. From what I’ve read, the plants should have produced more than that. I think I should have been more diligent about watering my potatoes between sprouting and flowering, and the soil wasn’t all that fertile. But for my first time, I was extremely pleased.
My plans for spring are to plant the potatoes in the new extension to my previous garden in an area where nothing has grown before. During the winter, we have been spreading manure from the chicken coop on this area to improve the nitrogen content, which potatoes need.
The Yukon Gold was a delicious variety, but we enjoyed the red potatoes, too. I think I’m going to do a mix of Yukon Gold, Red Norland, and Kennebec varieties, with more Yukon Gold. I’ll probably do between 20-30 plants in the spring and hopefully that many in the fall to keep us in potatoes for a longer period of time.
I haven’t found any gardening centers in my area that sell potatoes in the fall, so I will just keep any extras from the ones I purchase in the spring in the refrigerator until fall. I will also save some of the smaller potatoes from the spring harvest and replant them for the fall harvest, keeping them in the refrigerator in between. (Keeping them in the refrigerator simulates the winter dormant period needed for growth, from what I’ve read.)
Have you ever planted potatoes? What has been your experience?