It’s almost St. Patty’s Day, and that means it’s time for gardeners to start thinking about potatoes. It’s a veggie that anyone with some sun exposure can grow, and nothing beats a homegrown spud!
Choosing Seed Potatoes
Let’s start with the types. Choose one or more depending on what potato you’re looking for.
- often hailed as the perfect potato for small gardens
- has a maturation period of 85 days
- a medium potato with great boiling and baking properties
- another great choice for smaller garden plots
- matures in 70 to 80 days
- smaller on average than other varieties
- great flavor, heavy yields
- good for boiling, potato salads, roasting, frying and french frying
- purple inside and out
- matures in 110 days
- High in phytonutrients, vitamin C
- makes “stunning” chips and fries, as well as mixed veggie dishes and potato salads
- golden, yellow-brown skin
- matures in 85 to 90 days
- sweeter flavor
- ideal for boiling, baking and frying
When picking seed potatoes, try and choose the ones with a good amount of “eyes.” Eyes are indentations on the potato skins that will send out tubers (eventually becoming networks of potatoes under the soil). Ideally, you want eyes on almost 360 degrees of the potato to send tubers out in all directions. Pick enough seed potatoes to plant them about a foot apart down the entire length of your row.
Did you know: you can actually plant store-bought potatoes? Just stay away from non-organic spuds, because they may be treated with growth inhibitor to make them more suitable for long-term pantry storage.
Growing Potatoes in the ground
Many seasoned potato growers will tell you to put seed potatoes outside in the soil 0 to 2 weeks after your zone’s last spring freeze date. According to data from NOAA, that date for Boulder can fall, on average, any time between April 8th (90 percent likelihood of freeze) and May 7th (10 percent likelihood of freeze). A lot of local gardeners will stay on the earlier end of this spectrum, sometimes even putting potatoes in soil close to the middle of March, and eyeing them closely if temperatures dip to react with some sort of insulation, like frost-protect fabric.
To plant: dig a trench at least one foot deep in a seasonal soil plot dedicated to potatoes. Amend the soil taken from the trench with a good compost and an additive like peat moss, coco coir or vermiculite to lighten it up. Potatoes are heavy feeders, but prefer well-draining soil so they have room to develop and grow, and also so they don’t sit in constant water, therefore having issues with fungi and rot.
You’ll want to fill the bottom of your 12-inch-deep trench with about six inches of the newly amended soil– this will allow tubers to grow downward into the soft, fertile medium, as well as on the sides and top of the trench.
Set the seed potatoes about 1 foot apart down the entire length of the trench, cover them with 6 more inches of the doctored soil and water well. Continue to water and fertilize at regular intervals, adjusting as necessary with the weather.
When green foliage appears on top of the plant, and grows to about 6 inches tall, go ahead and “mound” or “hill” the plant by burying about two thirds of the exposed greenery (stem and leaves) with more loose, fertile soil. When buried, the green foliage will turn into more tubers underneath the soil, producing more potatoes. Plants can usually be mounded every couple of weeks throughout the season.
Harvest all potatoes by the time the vines up top die off, or the spuds may rot (get them out by August at the latest). Brush off any excess soil clinging to the potatoes, but don’t wash them until you’re ready to eat them. Store them in a cool, dry and dark place.
Did you know that you can grow hundreds of pounds of potatoes in about 4 square feet?
That’s right! Because potatoes can be continually mounded throughout the season to improve their production, they can be grown in barrels, clean/empty garbage cans, and even a contraption called a “potato tower” (pictured right).
With the potato tower concept, a grower just adds another plank to the tower’s frame every time the plant requires more mounding, and fills the new tier with fertile soil. Pretty soon, they have an ascending spire of spuds! Potatoes are harvested from the bottom by peeling off a bottom plank and robbing the spuds level by level.