Potatoes For Your Garden
Regardless of how Al Gore spells them, potatoes are a popular food item all over the country. Potatoes are easy to grow. But before you run out to get your seed potatoes, let me tell you some of the things I have learned from experience – there are a few things you should know about planting potatoes.
Do not plant potatoes too early, while the ground is still very cold. If the ground is too cold and wet, the seed potatoes will not sprout until things warm up a bit. Around Semmes this is usually early or mid March. The potatoes will survive cold but not frozen soil and even a light frost, but not much growth will take place until the soil warms up a bit.
You won’t find potato seedlings or packets of potato seeds for sale at your local garden center. Instead, potatoes are grown from seed potatoes. A seed potato is nothing more than an ordinary potato, with at least one “eye”. I like to buy my seed potatoes at Semmes Feed & Supply in Semmes AL. They have always been happy to answer questions and help me with my garden needs. They’re at 8900 Moffett Road. You might want to call first, there’s going to be a lot of people buying and planting seed potatoes right about now. Semmes Feed & Supply phone number is 251-645-3694. By the way, this is not a paid post, I just like doing business with them and think you will too. (I am looking for a sponsor for this series, however.)
Your grandparents and mine probably put most of the food on their table from their own garden. I know mine did. They would put potatoes up for the winter and come spring, those that were left were used as seed potatoes.
Purchase and plant the best seed potatoes you can find. They can be planted whole, or you may want to cut them into smaller pieces. Each piece must have at least one eye. Seed potatoes with more eyes will grow to produce a larger quantity of potatoes but the potatoes will generally be smaller. Seed potatoes with fewer eyes will produce fewer potatoes, but those potatoes will tend to be larger.
If you do cut the seed potatoes into smaller pieces, cut them up the day before you want to plant and set them on a piece of newspaper overnight. This will let the cuts heal up a bit which helps prevent infection from soil-borne diseases.
Plant the whole or cut seed potatoes two to three inches deep. Rows of potatoes should be about three feet apart and the potatoes within the row should be planted twelve inches apart. The potato plants will start to show up in one to three weeks. When the plants are about a foot tall, use your hoe to mound up a small hill of dirt about six to eight inches high along the entire row of plants. This is called hilling. Hilling makes the potatoes grow deep under the soil, away from sunlight which would cause them to become green. Potatoes that are exposed to sunlight will do a thing called “greening” and they will be bitter. I’ve read in the past that green potatoes might even be a little bit toxic. No matter to me, just keep hilling as they grow so sunlight can’t get to them.
Keep the potato plants evenly watered while they are growing. A dry period followed by a rainy spell will cause some potato varieties to develop a hollow core.
Another potential problem with potatoes is the potato beetle. The larvae and adult beetles feed on the potato plant leaves, and if you have a bunch of these suckers, they will cut down your harvest quite a bit. The beetles deposit yellow eggs on the undersides of leaves. When you find ’em, crush the clusters of eggs with your fingers. The beetle larvae are a deep orange color with a row of black spots on both sides, while the adults are a paler orange with black stripes on the body and black spots on the head. Pick them off the leaves and crush them too if there are not too many. If you get a heavy infestation, ask the people at Semmes Feed & Supply what they recommend. There’s always new and better stuff coming out and some stuff is removed from the market for a variety of reasons.
When the plants bloom, you can begin to harvest small “new” potatoes. Depending on the variety of potatoes you’re growing, this will be about eight weeks after planting.
Good luck. If this is your first time planting potatoes, you are going to find out that fresh potatoes right out of your garden taste better than any you’ll buy anywhere at any price.
Good luck and please share your gardening experiences with others in our gardening forum.