Growing Potatoes for Year-Round Harvest
Potatoes are one of the easiest root vegetables to grow in the home garden, and you can grow a number of varieties that you probably won't see in the grocery store. There are four steps to growing potatoes to get the best yield and production possible for your area.
Know Your Area's Last Freeze Date
It's best to start with knowing your area's last expected freeze date. Potatoes prefer to be grown in cooler weather, so in most areas of the country that means spring planting - but it's better to be sure. The earliest you should plant is three to four weeks before that date, particularly if you live in a warmer climate. Potatoes for home growing are not planted from seed; instead sections called seed potatoes are used. One week before planting, move your seed potatoes to a warmer light-filled spot (such as by a window). If you live in a warmer climate and plant too late, don't expect a good yield; potato plants will not live when temperatures soar above 90 degrees.
Choose Your Potato
Choose your potato varieties depending upon how you want to cook them. Some varieties are particularly suited for baking, making french fries or hash browns, boiling, or storing. Some varieties are better for growing in warmer climates, and most are categorized as early-, mid- or late-season potatoes. If you have any special growing requirements or live in a warmer climate, it's best to do some homework first.
Plant Your Potatoes
Choose a site in your garden with full sun (six to eight hours a day) and with loose, well-drained soil. To avoid certain potato diseases, this crop needs to be moved around in the garden. Identify three different sites in your garden for the "tater patch" in order to rotate potatoes over a three-year period. One to two days before planting, cut larger potatoes into smaller "seeds," each piece 1½ to 2 in. square and with one to two eyes, or buds. Smaller seed potatoes can be planted whole. Allow the cut potatoes to callus over (develop a harder, thicker "skin") for a day or two before planting. Dig a shallow trench 4 in. wide and 6 to 8 in. deep. Space the seed potatoes, cut side down, every 15 in. Cover with 3 to 4 in. of soil, and add an additional 3 in. of soil when sprouts show in two weeks.
Harvest and Store Potatoes
Potatoes of any size can be harvested after the plant flowers. If you harvest later in the season and intend to store your potatoes over the cooler months, wait until the soil and the temperatures have cooled off (typically mid-September in northern parts of the United States, and a bit later in warmer climates). Ten weeks before harvesting, cut or pull the vines, dig up the tubers, and allow them to dry for an hour or two on top of the soil. Store in a dark and humid environment, at 37 to 40 degrees, discarding any potatoes that are damaged or rotten.
Growing potatoes provides food for your family year-round and their fresh flavor will amaze you. Try adding them to your vegetable garden this year.
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