Welcome All! I'm a dreamer, I hope you are too! A Posse ad Esse, or From possibility to reality, is a general state of mind. I hope you'll share your possibilities with me as I will with you. Namaste~

April 13, 2011

Preparing to plant potatoes

Recently, I dropped by our local nursery to pick up a few additional items that we needed to have. One of those items was another five pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes.

While we were sorting through the 'taters, an older couple was there looking to get some as well and asked us if we'd ever grown them. I was actually pretty shocked, after we said "yes, many times", when they asked us, "what are tubers?" (The sign on the display referenced tubers) I guess I shouldn't be... shocked that is... but I was. I guess our disconnect from our food has been going on longer than I had imagined. We talked to then for a little while, giving them a basic primer in potato growing 101, and went our separate ways. It got me to thinking that this may be a really good time to go over some of the basics of growing potatoes. I Usually have my potatoes in the ground around St Patrick's Day, but this year it's been so rainy and wet - Locally our watershed levels are averaging around 160%-170% of our normal level - that I haven't been able to get them into the ground. I probably could have squeezed them in at some point, but I think I would have suffered from a lot of rot if I had.

First of all, the potatoes themselves are the tubers; and tubers are "...various types of modified plant structures that are enlarged to store nutrients. They are used by plants to survive the winter or dry months and provide energy and nutrients for regrowth during the next growing season..." (wikipedia). Just needed to get that straight from the start.

Potato's are plants in the solanaceae family. That makes them cousins with plants like Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplants. If you think about the way that those plants bear fruit, you'll have a pretty good idea of the way that potatoes bear their tubers as well. Many folks think that potatoes grow from the roots of the plant, an understandable thing considering the photo above, it does look like they've grown from the roots, But take a look at this photo:

You can see the seed potato that was placed in the ground and can clearly see that the small potatoes are growing from the stem ABOVE the planted potato. Think again about tomatoes... if you pay attention to them they actually grow from a small stem that grows from the main stem. Potatoes are the same, except that they only grow on the stem that is underground. Because of that, they are planted a little differently.

This might look a lot like how you would lay out any other plant before putting it in the ground. The difference here is that I'm not going to plant them into the hills, but rather will bury them a couple of inches under the soil at the bottom of the furrows. I lay the potatoes out so I know how many I can fit in a row, then dig them in and leave them alone. Potatoes don't need to be watered in because the tuber itself is mostly water itself and is designed by mother nature to support this plant as it gets itself established. I let my potatoes grow until they are nearly a foot tall before I ever irrigate them. The spring rains take care of that for me. After the Potato plants have grown up enough to be five or six inches above the ground, I will then rake or hoe the soil from the hills over and onto the plant itself. After this, I let the plant grow further. When it's another five or six inches above ground level again, I will hoe the soil up onto the plant again leaving furrows between the plants that I will flood irrigate once or twice a week.

As the weather turns hotter and the plants are getting taller, I want to keep mounding over the plants as much as possible, and mulching to keep the moisture level steady and weeds down. Grass clippings work great for this. The reason, in case you were wondering, why I keep mounding soil and mulch over the plants is because, as I said, the actual potatoes grow from the stems above the seed potato, but only where it's covered. I want to make sure that there's as much stem underground as possible when the potatoes are growing. So, the long and the short of it is that with a little understanding about the way that potatoes grow and some of the ways that you can coax them along and get great returns for yourself.

Best of luck with your tater growing!



Damn The Broccoli said...

Great little post. Nothing I wasn't already aware of but I have many friends who wouldn't know.

It's also good (in a bad way) that it isn't only the younger generations that haven't got a clue when it comes to such things.

Bill said...

Thanks for the lesson on potatoes. Unlike most other readers, I am at least 2 generations removed from many of these skills. I have a good neighbor that answers most of my questions which has been a big help.

I had wanted to try potatoes this year and will try this method this weekend pending a few dry days.

P~ said...

@DTB, yeah, no super new info here, but I like to try to cover things in a little more depth once and a while that maybe get taken for granted. I hope it can help out someone with these questions.

@Bill, Good luck with your potatoes. Feel free to aak if you come across any questions your neighbor can't answer.

Susan said...

What spacing do you usually use between potato plants, and between rows?

P~ said...

Good question. I plant them about 12 inches apart in rows that are 18 inches apart.
I've s also planted them in square foot garden raised beds at one per sq. ft. this really works well too.
This weekend-I'll be planting many of them in our community garden bed And haven't yeast determined if I'll be using rows or a more "free form" approach. I plan to blog more on that as it happens. I'll also be pitying updates up on facebook if you're on there and care to follow.

Anonymous said...

Northern Utah weather sure hasn't been good for early potatoes this year. I feel your pain. By this time last year my potatoes were looking great. I did manage to get some in during a dry spell in March but most are just sitting doing nothing. The only potatoes I have that are up and growing are a few I put in a cold frame. Of course these are all just meant to be early potatoes. I don't put my main crop potatoes in until May. Thanks for the great post - Rick

ChicagoMike said...

Hello P,

Long time no post.

I was curious if you are just using store bought (as in, to eat) potatoes or if you are ordering stock from somewhere. I am thinking about putting out some potatoes and it occured to me that I could put out a pretty good variety pretty cheaply if I can use ones purchased to eat.

Little help?

P~ said...

Hey, long time indeed!
So, Here's the skinny on planting potatoes.
If you try to grow ones that were bought to eat, you may well do just fine. The concerns are that the potato may have been treated with some chemical that is used to stop the eyes from sprouting, obviously a problem...
Or, You may have some dormant disease still alive on your potato that will make it's way to your soil. Keep in mind, Irish potato famine... This was a potato blight. Potatoes and Tomatoes are in the same family and can be hit with the same blights.Purchased potatoes are certified disease free.

If I was going to try to grow from bought varieties, I would try growing them in thier own bed, or even better, in a large pot perhaps. Take from this what you will.
Good to hear from you Mike.

Susan said...

Thanks for the reply Paul. I'm glad to see you are back posting regularly again!
I was also wondering if you stick one whole seed potato in the ground for each plant, or do you cut them into smaller chunks. Do you think it makes a difference in yield?
Also, I have a few potatoes still in the garage from last year, but some of them are stating to grow (I think you call it "chit"?). I was thinking about trying to use some of them for my seed potatoes. Do you have any advice on how to do this (how do I select which ones to use?) Is there a point at which they potatoes have grown "legs" a little too long and they wouldn't be any good for putting in the ground?

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

How long after they are planted should I see some activity on my taters? Its been about 2 months and i still dont see anything above ground.

P~ said...

OJ Dad,
it could easily take a couple of months before you see much of anything happening, depending on you're location, the weather and how deep they were planted.
It's perfectly fine to gingerly dig down where you know a tuber is and assure yourself that they are still there. You're likely to find some sprouts trying to find their way to the surface.
I know this from my own impatient experience.
good luck.

Durgan said...

http://www.durgan.org/URL/?QHBIN 21 August 2009 How a Potato Plant Grows
There is a great deal of information on the Internet about growing potatoes in tires, boxes and indicating that large quantities of new tubers can be produced with high vertical hilling. Often some article accompanied with a doctored picture indicating massive amounts of potatoes is shown. The view propagated is that potatoes grow from branches all along the main stalk. This is utter nonsense, as the pictures indicate. New tubers are formed around the seed potato and always slightly above it.

My potato growing test box was opened today. The pictures speak for themselves. Clearly there is no advantage in carrying out excessive hilling when growing potatoes. The purpose of hilling is to insure the tubers are covered, since light affects potatoes producing a green appearance, which is an indication of solanine, which is harmful if ingested in large quantities.. For comparison one Pontiac Red was dug in the same row, which was almost identical to the test box potato in production.

michael said...

i don't plant mine on hills or rows i always had good luck planting the potato legs the things that grows out of potatoes plus one that i planted grew a seed pod and it looked just like a green tomato o yeah and the legs are ok to eat because i eat them all the time you just have to cook them is all i plant mine on flat grounds