“New potatoes,” those harvested small and early, are all the rage in America’s kitchens and for good reason. They’re often fork- sized (well, close), retain their shape when cooked up, and come out nice and tender. They’re also a touch sweet. They haven’t developed long enough for their sugars to turn to starch. And that makes them the perfect accompaniment to late spring- early summer meals when they go well with other early season vegetables from your organic garden.
They’re also great for early season potato salads.
What makes a new potato new is it’s harvest time. You can have them in eight weeks to ten weeks after planting, depending on the conditions where you live. And potato tubers can go in the ground early, four to six weeks ahead of the last frost. But don’t plant them too early. Wait until your soil temperature reaches 45 degrees or so. Tubers put in the ground when soil temperatures are below 45 will stay dormant, and if conditions are wet, may rot.
Choose seed potatoes carefully and be sure to buy from a reputable dealer. (We offer organic potato tubers at our retail store only.) Short-season types are best for new potatoes.
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Types of potatoes vary widely and your local grower and nursery people are the best source of information on which potatoes are right for your area and best for early harvest.
Seed potatoes found at big box stores or other outlets, including supermarkets, may have been sprayed with sprout inhibitors. They’re also a notorious source of disease. A great source of seed potatoes in our world was a neighbor who always had plenty. We knew how he grew and he didn’t automatically spray or otherwise poison his crop.
Early potatoes benefit from advance sprouting before growing in the ground. Find the end of the potato that holds most of the eyes, or sprouting spots, and set them upright — an egg carton works great, or in baby food jars if you have them — in a cool, dry, place. The potatoes don’t have to be in the dark, in fact, light will encourage the tubers to sprout.
You can do this a month or so ahead of garden planting. Try to time it so that the tuber sprouts, known as chits, are about an inch or so long when it’s time to stick them in the ground. This method is also great for any potatoes you’ll be growing in bags or containers.
Potatoes that have several eyes can be cut to give you more plants. Make sure each piece of the potato you cut is at least an inch or more in diameter and has at least one or two eyes. (Grandpa always insisted on two, “like me,” he’d say.) Let the cut ends dry for a day or two before planting to help them resist excessive moisture and disease.
Plant potatoes for new harvest just as you would other potato tubers, six to eight inches deep, eyes up. We’ve always favored planting potatoes in rows, in a trench, so that they may be more easily heaped with soil as they grow.
Because they’ll have less growing time, you can plant them closer than you might a “keeper” potato crop that will be in the ground until fall. A foot or less will do for spacing. If you intend to harvest some early and some late from the same plant give them 15 inches. Keep the rows a good two-and-a-half, three feet apart, more if you’ll be rototilling, so it’s easy to heap soil on the plants as they continue to grow.
New potatoes take particularly well to being grown under straw. In this method, no soil is used. Instead, straw is used to fill the trenches and heaped on top as the plants continue to grow. Be sure to use enough. You don’t want sunlight turning your potatoes green. Growing under straw makes the potatoes particularly easy to harvest. You can be selective and just take what you need, rather than turning over a whole garden fork-full.
JUST ADD SOIL!
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It can be tricky knowing when new potatoes are ready for harvest. The potatoes should be at least an inch across for easy handling and uniform cooking. We’ve always dug out a couple with our bare hands (yes, our soil is that good) to make sure they’re big enough before taking the garden fork, getting under the tubers, and turning the whole thing over.
Parental tip: grandpa used to pay a penny for every potato we dug out of his garden. Unless you’ve really got a lot of your garden in potatoes, you won’t go broke. Kid tip: negotiate for a dime a potato.
We’ve read advice to leave potatoes, once dug, out in the field to dry for a couple of days if the weather is good. However, we’ve always felt that it’s best to keep potatoes out of sunlight, so bring them inside to dry in a well-ventilated place.
Best is to wash them right up and get them cooking. They’re really great roasted and splashed with herbs (rosemary, even marjoram) and olive oil. Or do it the old-fashioned way: steam ’em and lather them up with butter. Growing your own will give you the peace of mind that your crop doesn’t carry any of the dozens of chemicals used to treat potatoes that are raised conventionally and sold in grocery stores.
Here’s more than we’ve ever known about potatoes in one place (PDF) along with common problems and solutions. And here’s an interesting method of planting in a container of perlite (PDF). Time to get started.
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