Tuesday, May 03, 2016

How To Grow Your Own Potatoes

Magic Molly purple fingerling potatoes from Johnny's seeds.

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A Year for Trying New Veggies
In March I planted my very first asparagus. They are popping up now although I won't be able to harvest any until next year (despite having bought 2-year old crowns). But it's always exciting to try growing new vegetables.

The one vegetable I have never tried growing is potatoes. So this year, after the encouragement of my cousin Christy,  I dedicated an entire raised bed to the effort.

Why Bother?
You might ask yourself why bother growing something as plentiful and common as a potato. Well, have you ever tasted a fresh potato? I have and the difference is amazing. Besides superior taste and texture, you can grow a variety of potatoes that you don't find in the store. And if you do find them in the store or farmer's market, these gourmet potatoes can be pretty pricey.  But if you decide to grow them, be sure to order them in time as the "seed" potatoes get sold out pretty quickly. 

Seed Potatoes
You don't actually grow potatoes from their seeds, even though they do produce seeds, but you grow them from  the part of the potato that has "eyes." These potatoes are called "seed potatoes." Each eye is a bud that turns into a new plant. 

Although you can grow a crop from you old potatoes that are beginning to sprout, it's important to make sure that you are starting with potatoes that are "disease free." So this year, at least, I am starting with organic seed potatoes that I purchased from Johnny's Seeds. They were crazy expensive so I hope to try to make my own seed potatoes next year.

How to Plant
We went a little overboard in our garden beds this year. We filled it with new compost, rock dust, biochar, worm castings, and mycorrhizae. So the potatoes should be pretty happy.

Amendments to the soil before mixing.
Mycorrhizae are added directly under the seed potatoes.

We had been keeping the seed potatoes at 40 degrees so we had to let them warm up to room temperature. Most of the Pinto Gold's were so small (2 ounces or less) that we didn't have to cut them and were able to plant them whole. The Magic Molly purple fingerling potatoes were bigger so we had to cut them into smaller pieces, each piece having at least one "eye.". The cut potatoes should be allowed to sit for 2 days before planting so that they seal. This prevents rotting and makes them less susceptible to soil-born diseases.

After mixing the amendments into the soil, we placed each seed potato 2 to 3 inches deep into the soil with the eyes pointing up about 12 inches apart with the rows about 30 inches across.

Note the eyes pointed upward
Cover carefully with the soil. 

Covered with soil
The plants should emerge 2 to 3 weeks later. Keeping my fingers crossed!

Update May 14th 
12 days after planting, sprouts emerged. They looked like this:

Potatoes sprouted after 12 days

Update May 20th
The weather has been unusually warm and the little spuds love it. Here's what the bed looks like 18 days after planting.

Less than 3 weeks after planting, these
healthy leaves are growing quickly!

When the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall, I will have to "hill" them by mounding soil from each side of the row about 4 inches high along the base stem of the plants.

As the plants grow, I will repeat the hilling process until the hills are about 1 foot high.

Hilling prevents the "greening" of the potatoes. Green potatoes contain solanine, a glycoalkaloid poison (found in nightshade vegetables) so don't ever eat a green potato or the sprouts of a potato as they also contain solanine.

Update June 14th
Six weeks after planting, the plants are about 3 feet tall! I've hilled the dirt around the stems and I'm now starting to see little flowers.

6 weeks old, the stalks stand 3 feet tall
Clusters of little flowers appeared

Not sure what to expect but I should get around 5 to 10 pounds for every pound of potatoes I planted. Since I planted a pound of Magic Molly's and a pound of Pinto Golds, I'm hoping to get 10 to 20 pounds of potatoes. I'll keep you posted!

Here's what they should look like:

Magic Molly fingerling potatoes
Pinto Gold

Small "new" potatoes can be harvested 7 to 8 weeks after planting. Main crop tubers harvested in the fall. To prepare for storing, dig the tubers, brush off soil, and allow skins to cure.

Update August 9th
I harvested nearly 70 pounds of potatoes - much more than I expected from only 2 pounds of seed potatoes. Here's what they looked like.

Super pleased with this huge harvest!

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