I am as I have always been: in love with potatoes.
Mashed or roasted, baked or fried, add just the right amount of butter and there will never be leftovers!
As with all things that I now steward the seeds of, I dearly love to eat them. The multitudes of colors and shapes, their versatility in our kitchen, their unceasing ability to satisfy, on many levels, is without end. We love to plant, harvest, eat and plant more potatoes…and the circles go round!
Of all the marvelous things in my Father’s gardens, potatoes were particularly beloved. After planting a humble, sprouted chunk in an old wine barrel the gorgeous, deep blue foliage would rise and the pale, delicate flowers would appear as shooting stars. We’d pour more soil with fresh grass clippings on top, making the plant rise and flourish all the more until finally the time came to tip over the barrel! Beside my sister Greta, pushing with all our might we’d spill the contents of the barrel and scurry to find those gems of gold, ruby and sapphire among the soil. With so much anticipation, harvesting potatoes was more elating than an Easter Egg Hunt! To this day, harvesting potatoes is still one of my favorite pleasures of gardening.
Potatoes are one of the easiest plants to grow and here are a few keys to ensure abundance!
Start with the best certified organic, disease-free seed potatoes you can find. Although it’s tempting, store-bought potatoes have been treated with chemicals that inhibit sprouting and are inappropriate for planting. There are hundreds of potato varieties, so try something new alongside your old stand-bys! Fruition Seeds offers seven different potatoes for seed, each one with unique color, shape, maturity and level of disease resistance, each one regionally adapted to thrive in the Northeast.
Once you have your seed potatoes, set them in a warm, bright place for a few days until they just begin sprout. All potatoes larger than a chicken egg can be cut into pieces with at least three sprouts called ‘eyes’. Let the cut potatoes heal over in a warm, dry place for several days before planting.
Potatoes prefer to grow in cool weather, so plan on planting them 2-4 weeks before the last frost. Plant them in the ground or in containers, but here is a secret: potatoes only grow above the seed potato! There are many ways to increase potato production and here are a few:
-plant potatoes in a 10” deep trench and cover with 4″ of soil, ‘hilling’ them with additional soil or mulch once they’re 10″ tall and again every 2 to 3 weeks as they grow
-plant potatoes in a 4” trench and ‘hill’ them with additional soil or mulch once they’re 10” tall and again every 2 to 3 weeks as they grow
-plant potatoes in a container at either of these depths and hill accordingly
Potatoes are heavy feeders and production will reflect the quality of soil (and good compost) they are offered, so don’t hold back! Also, always plant them with their eyes up about 8” to 12” apart in the trench, leaving 2’ to 3’ between trenches. Hilling potatoes can be accomplished by hoeing soil onto each plants’ stems as well as by tucking weed-free mulch (grass clippings, straw, leaves) underneath each plant. Hilling allows for greater production and also ensures that each potato will not be exposed to sun, causing them to blush green and become bitter. Leave at least 6″-8″ of the foliage above the hillling soil or mulch.
Be patient: sprouts will emerge two to four weeks after planting. Potatoes thrive with consistent water throughout the season; mulching helps maintain even soil moisture.
As your potatoes grow, be aware of any pests and diseases that may arrive. Colorado potato beetles must be picked off at every life stage (egg-larvae-adult) before they defoliate your crop. Most potatoes are susceptible to both Early and Late Blight (though you can select disease-resistant varieties) and the best way to protect your crop is to water the soil rather than the foliage. Also, allowing plenty of space between plants ensures good air-flow, decreasing the cool, moist pockets that allow Blight to thrive.
Expect to eat about ten times of what you plant: if you plant one pound of potatoes, you’ll harvest about ten pounds. Potatoes are one of the most productive foods you can grow in your garden, not to mention fascinating and fun.
Every Spring I look so forward to planting our potatoes.
I hope you’ll enjoy their beautiful abundance as well, tucking them into your soil for many years to come!