Most Americans enjoy potatoes as a side dish with their meal. For children and teens the favorite is french fries, while adults enjoy many different varieties of potatoes preparation ranging from mashed potatoes to baked, to scalloped, to potato cakes to hash browns and many, many other varieties.
A personal favorite of mine are the small, red, round “new potatoes” that are most often served boiled in the red skin, and then are halved and coated in butter and are salted and peppered to taste. These tiny (1 1/2 – 2 inches in diameter) little morsels make a wonderful addition to any meal.
While potatoes can be found at any well stocked grocery store I am convinced the very best and otherwise incomparable potatoes are those that are freshly dug and still have the aroma of the fresh soil from which they were taken. For this reason I have for the past several years grown my own potatoes and with passing year the number of rows planted and the number of pound s of potatoes consumed by by family has grown as our appetite for this tuber continues to grow.
If you have even a small amount of well lighted (sun) space and are willing to do a little soil preparation, growing your own potatoes is easy and can be done with minimal effort and produce great rewards.
As potatoes are a cool season crop the best time to plant is 4-6 weeks before the last frost is expected. In my part of the country (North Carolina) that would be in February. Of course a February planting would require soil preparation earlier.
Start by turning over soil to a depth of ten to twelve inches in an area measuring 15 feet by twenty feet. If available work into the soils any compost, rotted leaves or other organic matter you may have. As potatoes do best in acidic soil you may need to add soybean meal or any other high nitrogen fertilizer and mix this thoroughly into the soil. Cow and/or horse manure is not recommended as these are too harsh for potatoes.
Use a hoe to thoroughly chop clumps and continue mixing fertilizer an organic matter into the soil before forming the soil into rows twenty feet in length and three feet apart for a total of five rows twenty feet in length. Form the rows by using a hoe and rake to make raised rows ten inches high. In the top of each row use hoe to open a four inch deep furrow the length of the row.
You can purchase seed potatoes from a local farm supply store. There are many varieties which the clerk can help you understand by showing examples of each potato. Select the seed that makes the potato you prefer. The five twenty-foot rows you have made will require twelve pounds of seed potatoes.
Prepare the seeds for planting by cutting them into pieces with each piece containing a minimum of three “eyes” )eyes are buds on the face of the potato). Spread the cut potatoes on paper towels with air space between each piece and allow these to dry in a well ventilated room for two days before planting.(to reduce the chances of rot).
Plant the seed pieces cut side down, four inches deep and twelve inches apart in the furrow and cover these with two inches of soil. After one or two weeks sprouts will break through the soil. At this time close the furrow by covering the sprouts with an additional two to three inches of soil.
Once the stems of the potato plant grow to a height of eight inches rake soil up and over the stem halfway up its’ height. three weeks later the stem will grow additional inches. Once again rake sufficient soil to cover half this growth all around the plant. This is necessary to keep the newly forming potatoes from breaking the surface and being scalded by the sun’s rays.
Water the plants every week to a depth on one to two inches.
Once the plants set flowers you will know the new potatoes are forming. You can harvest potatoes three weeks after flowering, but these will be small “new” potatoes. You can remove “New” potatoes by carefully removing soil from the base of the plant and selecting potatoes of the size you want. Leave the rest in the ground to grow larger potatoes.
The potato plants will die back and turn yellow when they are no longer making potatoes. You can pull them up at this time and dig in the soil to find remaining potatoes. Gently shake or knock the dirt off the potatoes being careful not to cut or bruise them. After cleaning the potato of dirt lay them out on clean newspaper, inside a cool room (basement or garage) and cover them with towels for three days.
Store potatoes at 50 – 60 degrees if possible and always keep them out of direct sunlight as this will turn them green and make them bitter to the taste.
Select some of the most healthy potatoes for preservation as seeds for next year’s crop.
If all goes well the the above will result in 150 to 200 pounds of potatoes.