The Q&A Archives: Low Potato Yield

Question: This was my first year growing potatoes. The yield is only two-to-three small-to-medium potatoes per plant. They taste great, but I thought the yield per plant was supposed to be more like seven or so. What might have gone wrong?

I planted Red Pontiac and Kennebec. I have limited space, so I only had two feet between rows. I planted them 10 inches apart within the row. Too close perhaps? I saw a lot of discrepancy in the literature as to planting depth. I went with a couple inches. Too shallow? I did hill when they were young. No evidence of surface pests, although I had some minor wireworm damage, I think. I watered regularly. All my other plants -- tomatoes, beans, etc. -- had unusually high yields this year. Any thoughts on this low potato yield?

Answer: Seed potatoes should be planted 6-inches apart, in rows 3-feet apart, to give them room to grow without competing with one another. Initially, the potato should be covered with 4-5 inches of soil. As the vines grow, hill soil or compost over them to keep the developing tubers covered. (Tubers develop on root-like attachments that grow from the covered stem, so to encourage tubers, keep all but the top few inches of the plant covered with soil, straw, or compost.) Continue to hill the plants until the tops produce flowers. When flowers develop, it signals that the tubers are beginning to swell. You can harvest 'new' potatoes at this point. Or, wait until the tops wither naturally, which signals that the tubers have reached full-size and are ready to harvest. You may have planted your potatoes too close together, or you may have harvested too soon. Potatoes adapt well to growing in above-ground containers, such as wire cages or large barrels. Perhaps you'd like to try one of these methods if your gardening space is limited. Better luck next time!

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