For the most part, potatoes are easy to grow. Simply toss a few “seeds” onto the ground, cover them, and let them do their thing.
However, to make sure you enjoy a rich harvest, there are a few tricks and tips to keep in mind. Before we get to those, just how much is a “rich harvest”? Your target should be a ten-times increase in yield. For example, if you invest in 5-pounds of seed potatoes, you should aim for a 50-pound harvest. Here is how to grow potatoes for a bounteous harvest
Potatoes prefer cool weather. Heat can (and will) kill your plants. If you haven’t been growning and storing your own seed potatoes, buy them from a local garden center, or secondarily from a mail-order catalog or website.
Many “supermarket spuds” are treated with chemicals that inhibit sprouting, partly to help them store longer, but also to keep you from ridding yourself from dependency on shopping at the store. Store your seed potatoes in the refrigerator until you’re ready to plant.
Potatoes take two- to three-weeks after planting before they emerge from the ground. The earliest you should plant seed potatoes is two-weeks before the last anticipated freeze in your area. You can check with the Farmer’s Almanac, local gardeners, your local extension office, or online to determine this date.
A week before your planting date (three- to four-weeks before the last anticipated frost) take your seed potatoes out of the fridge and place them in a South or West facing window. Make sure they are far enough away from the glass that they won’t be cold, but close enough that they’ll get plenty of light. This step gets your spuds ready for planting by coaxing them out of dormancy.
At the same time, you may want to cover your planting bed with a clear plastic sheet or glass pane to help contain whatever heat you can, and start warming the soil.
How to Select a Good Location
If you don’t have a potato bed already (or the one you used last year didn’t yield a great harvest), look for a site that gets full-sun, especially in the morning. If your current site doesn’t, you can easily make a raised bed and place it where the the sun exposure is optimal.
Potatoes do best in USDA Hardiness Zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. While that probably covers where you’ll be growing, if you’re not, head down to the Tips to Extend Your Growing Season section for some ideas on how to grow if you’re in a more harsh climate (keep in mind, your location may be in one of these zones, but the microclimate of your box may be a few notches different).
Most potatoes like full-sun exposure, but are sensitive to heat.
Soil should be loose and sandy for the speed potato. Yields can be increased by mounding more light, sandy soil on top of the sprouted seeds, and can even be grown in boxes several feet tall.
The soil pH should be acidic .
However, each variety of potato may like different environmental components, so do take the advice of the supplier for your choice of potato.
Prepping Your Seeds
You do not need to plant the entire seed potato whole. Doing so will work, but will reduce your yield since each “seed” will produce just one plant.
The day prior to planting, cut your seed potatoes into two-inch cubes (or larger). Each cube needs to have at least one eye on it (that’s where the sprout will come from).
These “seeds” will “bleed” from their cut sides and are susceptible to rot if thrown in the ground right away. To mitigate that, place your seeds on the counter overnight. This will allow the seeds to “scab” over by forming a film across the cut sides. Doing so will help your seeds from rotting and failing to grow once planted.
Planting your Seeds
When it’s finally time to plant your “seeds”, simply place each seed in a hole with a several inches of soil beneath it, then cover the seed entirely, but with no more than an inch or two of soil above it, then water them in completely and top of with soil, if any washed off.
In two- to three-weeks you should begin to see sprouts. After they are several inches to a foot tall, mound up soil over them and cover them with straw. Doing so encourages the setting of more spuds and will significantly increase your yield.
Tips to Extend Your Growing Season
Most garden plants like to grow in warm soil. If it’s still cold, the seeds will remain dormant. Warming your soil can help extend your growing season. One of the preferred methods of doing so is by covering your grow-beds with sheets of plastic or glass panels — essentially making a small “greenhouse” directly over your grow bed.
In addition to warming the soil, this can also keep plants warm for up to a month on either side of your growing season. Who wouldn’t want two extra months of growing time?
Do not overwater your potatoes! They need to be planted in loose, sandy soil with excellent drainage. If your soil is too heavy or you water them too much, your plants will be thin and spindly, and your spuds will be few and far between.
Most people water their plants from culinary or secondary sources that are supplied via underground pipes. Just like the water that first comes out of your shower in the morning, most of the time this water is cold! Cold water is a shock to plants and will slow down their metabolism.
To prevent this, water your plants with water that’s the same temperature as the ambient air. Most of the time during the growing season the air is several degrees warmer than the soil, so giving them a warm drink in the morning will help them get off to a good start.
Many plants, like potatoes, don’t do well in high-heat. To mitigate heat you can use the same frame that held up your “greenhouse” to hold up a shade cloth. While this won’t keep the ambient temperature from increasing, it will help keep the temperature of your plants several degrees cooler.
Shade cloth is rated by how much sun it blocks. The more sun that’s blocked, the less hot your plants will get, but the less light will be available for them to turn into food. Use whatever works best for your climate.
Just like people, plants need vitamins and minerals to grow healthy and strong. No, don’t go and bury a multivitamin next to your plants, but you do need to provide proper fertilizer. Some people use petrochemical fertilizers that you buy in a bag, others use chemical sprays, some use natural or organic fertilizers, and still more provide nutrients from compost or compost tea. Whatever method you prefer, make sure you feed your plants regularly. Water and sun only provide a part of what your plants need, the nutrients in the soil provide the rest — and if your soil is nutrient-poor, your harvest will reflect it.
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