By E. VinjeTweet
A cool-season vegetable, growing potatoes offers home gardeners everything they could want – easy to cultivate, long storage and an enormous selection of varieties. Originally from South America, potatoes are the world’s favorite root crop.
Potatoes require sandy, fertile, fast draining soil. The tubers will become deformed in poor or rocky soil. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and do not allow it to dry out. Water deeply as temperatures begin to rise. They require moderate levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium and sulfur. Prior to planting, mix plenty of compost into your garden area.
How to Plant:
Plant potatoes in early spring for a summer crop, in late summer or early fall for a winter/spring crop in mild winter regions. Set tubers or seed potato pieces 2 inches deep, 1-1/2 feet apart. Add loose soil as the plant grows, taking care not to cover stems completely. Mulching with straw reduces pest problems and improves yields.
Several serious potato diseases are spread from infected tubers. Only purchase seed potato that is certified disease-free.
Do not plant tubers purchased from the supermarket. In most cases, they will be treated with a chemical sprout inhibitor.
Harvest new potatoes when flowers begin to open. Pull aside earth around the base of the plants, and gently pick tubers. As soon as tops die down, potatoes are full-grown. If weather is not too warm or wet, tubers will keep in the ground for several weeks. Dig them up before the first frost. Eat nicked or bruised potatoes first – they do not store well. Allow 90-120 days to reach maturity, depending on variety and climate.
Insects and Diseases:
The Colorado potato beetle is a common insect pest on potato. Symptoms include, skeletonized leaves and defoliated plants. Other pests include aphids, cutworm, flea beetles, wireworm and nematodes.
Spinosad is a relatively new biological pest control that can be effectively used to combat Colorado potato beetle. Mix 4 Tbsp per gallon of water and apply to both upper and lower surfaces of plant foliage.
Common diseases include black heart (streaks inside tubers), common scab (russet skin), early and late blight (dark spots on leaves), and mosaic (mottled light and dark green leaves).
Tip: Potatoes are a favorite food of gophers. Plant spuds above ground in our Home and Garden Compost Bin to prevent heartbreak.
Seed Saving Instructions:
Potatoes are grown from tuber cuttings, rarely from seed.