ranks with grains such as wheat
, and corn
as one of the most important staple crops in the world.
About This Plant
There has a resurgence of interest in home-grown potatoes, especially now that they are available in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and tastes. Most gardeners plant "seed" potatoes, a confusing term since these aren't seeds at all but rather small potato tubers. For best results, purchase certified seed potatoes; these will have been inspected to ensure they are free from disease. Avoid planting supermarket potatoes, because they may have been treated with a growth inhibitor to prevent them from sprouting. Consider trying some unusual varieties, such as fingerlings or blue potatoes.
Select a site with full sun and deep, well-drained soil. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost.
Buy seed potatoes of early varieties for planting as soon as soil can be worked in the spring. In the North, plant seed potatoes of later varieties from mid-May to early mid-June, 4 to 5 weeks after planting early varieties. In the South, plant seed potatoes of late varieties 1 to 2 weeks after early varieties. Cut seed potatoes into small pieces with two to three eyes per piece a few days before planting. Dig trenches 6 inches wide, 6 inches deep, and 30 to 36 inches apart. Space seed potatoes 10 to 15 inches apart in the trench and cover with about 4 inches of soil.
Protect emerging plants with soil or other cover in case of a hard late spring frost. Hill the soil up against the plants about a week after leaves emerge from soil. Repeat 2 to 3 weeks later. Be sure to provide adequate water 6 to 10 weeks after planting, when the potatoes start to form. Contact your local County Extension office for controls of common potato pests such as Colorado potato beetle, European corn borer, and leafhoppers.
Harvest small, new potatoes about 10 weeks after planting. Harvest storage potatoes after the vines have died and tubers have developed tough outer skins. In the North, harvest before fall frosts arrive.