Have you ever thought about expanding your small kitchen garden by trying some vegetables you’ve never grown before? Well, here’s your chance to try your hand at growing your own potatoes!
Does that sound a little scary? It is actually quite fun to watch them grow. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide to growing potatoes from a potato.
We’ll talk about choosing the kind of potatoes you want to grow, preparing the potatoes for planting, preparing the soil, how to care for the plants once they start growing, when to harvest, and how to store the potato crop. Let’s get started.
1. Choose the type of seed potatoes to buy
Before buying your seed potatoes, you must decide which type of potatoes you need and which variety or varieties you want to grow.
There are two varieties of potatoes:
- Early Varieties There are the Early Varieties which are divided into first earlies that are ready for harvest in early summer and second earlies which are ready a few weeks later. The Early Varieties are usually smaller, but they have a better flavor and smoother texture.
- Maincrop Varieties The Maincrop Varieties are usually larger potatoes that produce a larger harvest and are normally ready for harvest in late summer and early autumn.
Your next major decision is which kind or kinds of potatoes you want to plant. This will be determined by how you will use them and which varieties grow better in your area. There are many different kinds, but here are just a few of the best known:
Russet potatoes have rough brown skin and white flesh, are best for baking, mashing, frying, and roasting, but will fall apart when used in stews, soups, or casseroles.
- White Potatoes
White potatoes have smooth, light brown skin. They can be used in a variety of ways including baking and boiling and are considered all-purpose potatoes.
- Waxy Potatoes
These potatoes, like Yukon Gold, have a dense flesh that doesn’t disintegrate when cooked so are perfect for adding to stews and soups. They are also good for baking, roasting, and boiling for potato salad.
- Colorful Potatoes
Potatoes that have unique colors are best when fried or baked because some change color when boiled, changing to a greyish color that is unappetizing.
- Fingerling Potatoes
Fingerling potatoes are small and elongated, have thin skin, and can be boiled whole. These are great in soups, stews, and for making potato salad.
- New Potatoes
New potatoes that are harvested in the late spring are actually immature potatoes before they are ripe and can be any variety. They have a thin skin and are usually boiled whole with just a little butter and milk added and stirred to make a gravy. The new potatoes do not have a long shelf life as do the mature potatoes.
Can I Grow Potatoes from the Sprouted Potatoes in My Pantry?
Yes, you can grow potatoes from those that sprouted in your pantry. I have actually done this very thing. But, it is not a good idea to do so. Potatoes that you bought from the grocery probably have been sprayed with chemicals that make them last longer and could affect the way they grow, or they may have been contaminated by blights or viruses.
The biggest problem with growing potatoes from the grocery is that they don’t always grow “true to seed” which means that they don’t always produce the same type of potato. So, if you plant a russet potato that sprouted in your pantry or potato bin, your harvest may or may not consist of russet potatoes.
The best way to ensure a good potato crop that is true to seed is to buy seed potatoes, like these found on Amazon, or potatoes that have been grown specifically for replanting. And, the best seed potatoes are heirloom potatoes which have been produced in a sterile lab to guarantee that they are virus-free. Always select seed potatoes that are firm and free from blemishes
2. Prepare the potatoes for planting
Prepare your seed potatoes for planting a week or two in advance by placing them in an area that exposes them to light and temperatures that are between 60 and 70 degrees F to begin the sprouting process. Then, a day or two before planting cut them into chunks. Most people cut them in halves or quarters, making sure there are at least 2 eyes or sprouts in each section.
Each section should be at least 2 inches square. Plant the very small seed potatoes whole.
Lay the pieces out on a tray to allow the cut edges to dry and form a skin over the cut area before they are planted. If the cut sections are planted without drying, they will be more likely to rot.
3. Prepare the soil in the garden area
Potatoes should be planted in a section of your garden that gets full sun at least 6 to 8 hours each day, but preferably all day, and they grow best in rich, moist but well-drained soil that is slightly acidic (PH between 5.0 and 6.0). Till the soil well before planting, add a layer of organic fertilizer, like this type found on Amazon. Or, use compost or manure, then till again, working in the fertilizer.
Preparing the soil in this manner will give them ideal growing conditions, but potatoes usually grow well even in less than perfect conditions. Potatoes should not be grown in the same place every year and should not be planted in the same area more often than every 3 or 4 years. This is called crop rotation and the main reason in the case of potatoes is to prevent the potatoes from getting potato blight, which is the fungal disease that caused the Irish potato famine of 1845-1852.
4. Planting the potatoes
Depending on how long it has been since you prepared the soil for planting, you might need to till the soil again right before planting to get rid of any weeds that have come up. Plant the first earlies as soon as the soil begins to warm up in the spring. They can be planted as soon as the ground can be prepared, but will not begin to sprout until the temperature of the soil reaches 45 degrees.
Second earlies should be planted a few weeks later, with the maincrop potatoes to be planted a couple of weeks after the second earlies. The exact times for planting will depend on the growing season of the area in which you live.
Potatoes can be planted in trenches or in individual holes, whichever you prefer. They should be planted between 4 and 6 inches deep and a foot apart in the rows. Rows for the early varieties should be 18 inches apart; rows for the maincrops, 30 inches apart.
Be sure to plant the potatoes with eyes facing up. They will grow in whichever position they are placed, but they will come up faster if the eyes are facing upward. Sprouts should appear in about 2 weeks after planting.
If there is a frost after the plants come up, a light frost can be tolerated, but you will want to provide some protection if you know that a hard freeze is coming.
If you want to extend storage times and have a longer growing season, you can plant a second crop of the Maincrop varieties as late as the middle of June and harvest the potatoes as late as possible.
5. Care for the plants as they grow
It is very important to keep the weeds removed from around the potato plants. When the plants come up and have grown to a length of approximately 12 inches, begin mounding the soil up next to the plants with a hoe, burying about half of the length of the plant.
Should I mulch?
Mulching is a great idea for keeping down the growth of weeds in the garden. After the plants come up and are several inches long, instead of mounding dirt around the plants, begin layering hay around the plants. As the plants grow bigger, continue adding hay or other mulch material up to about a foot deep.
Should I fertilize?
Potatoes like rich soil so fertilizing is a good idea, but add your fertilizer, either commercial or organic, when preparing the soil before planting. It would be a good idea to have the soil in your garden tested by the County Agent to see what it needs. I like to use cow or chicken manure in my garden, but commercial fertilizers work well as does a rich compost if you are into composting.
In addition to fertilizing the soil prior to planting, it is helpful to fertilize the plants periodically throughout the growing season with a fertilizer such as Jobe’s Organics All-purpose Plant Food (Click to see Amazon listing) to be sure they are getting all the nutrients they need.
How much should I water?
Potato vines should be kept well-watered during the summer while the potatoes are growing and even when the plants are flowering and should be given 1 to 2 inches of water per week. But, stop watering when the plants turn yellow and begin to die.
6. Harvesting the potatoes
On average, potatoes take approximately 3 months between planting and harvest. New potatoes can be dug 2 or 3 weeks after the potato vines have stopped blooming. For harvesting new potatoes, carefully dig down beside the plant, preferably by hand, and only remove the number of small potatoes you will use within a few days. Cover the rest back up so they can continue to grow.
Harvesting the mature potatoes should begin 2 or 3 weeks after the potato vines have died. Carefully dig deep beside the plant with a digging fork or shovel to avoid damaging the potatoes. Turn out the entire plant onto the area between the rows and pick off the potatoes by hand.
After digging the potatoes, allow them to dry for 2 or 3 days to cure. Do not leave them in direct sunlight for more than a few minutes or they will develop green spots that will be bitter. If it is likely to rain during that time, store them in a protected area such as the barn, a storage area, or even under the house or porch for a few days.
7. Storing the potatoes
Do not wash potatoes that are to be stored, just brush or wipe off the majority of the dirt after they have been dug. Potatoes should keep until the following spring if stored properly. A cool, dark, and dry area that is well ventilated would be ideal. An underground root cellar that remains between 35 and 40 degrees F year-round would be perfect for storing potatoes and other root vegetables. If you do not have a root cellar, a hole dug under the edge of the house or in the barn could be used and the vegetables covered with a layer of hay.
Be sure wherever your potatoes are stored that it is a dark area because direct sunlight or fluorescent light on your stored potatoes will cause them to develop the green spots that will make the potatoes bitter. If they should develop those green spots, remove those sections before cooking.
Tips for storing potatoes:
- If you don’t have a dark area to store the potatoes, place them in a box with a lid or in paper bags.
- Do not store potatoes with apples as the ethylene gas produced by the apples will cause potatoes to spoil.
- Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator.
- Do not wash potatoes until you are ready to use them as wetting the potatoes will cause them to rot.
Growing potatoes is a little different than growing most vegetables. One difference is that potatoes and not seeds are planted to grow more potatoes. Another difference is that because potatoes grow underground, they cannot be watched as they grow, so how the harvest will turn out always has a bit of a surprise element involved. Even though relatively easy to grow, the trick is in the soil preparation to give the potatoes a good environment in which to grow and by making sure the growing plants have plenty of water at the right time.
I’m sure you may have more questions regarding potatoes. Here are some answers to some common questions.
Brief historical information
The earliest known cultivation of potatoes was in 500 B.C. by the Incas in Peru and Chile. Those first potatoes had dark purple skins and yellow flesh. The potatoes then found their way to and across Europe and to Africa and first came to America in the 1600s with the early settlers from Europe.
Today the potato is the most popular vegetable in the United States. And though considered a root vegetable, a potato isn’t actually a root but a tuber.
Why do we not grow potatoes from seeds?
The potato plant does produce seeds that grow in a small green berry or fruit on the plant itself. But, if the seeds from these berries are planted, they will not produce a potato that is “true to seed” and the harvest may not be the same type of potato as the one on which the seed was grown.
But, the seed potato when planted will produce a harvest that is “true to seed” and the exact match or duplicate of the seed potato itself.
Even though the seeds grown on the potato plant do not produce “true to seed,” it is possible to grow potatoes from those seeds. If you want to experiment, it is best to use heirloom potatoes, because seeds from hybrids will not produce good potatoes.
To grow potatoes from the heirloom potato seeds,
- Separate the seeds from the rest of the fruit by gently mashing the berries.
- Place the seeds in water and let them sit for 3 to 4 days to ferment.
- The fermentation will float and the viable seeds will sink to the bottom.
- Pour off the water and the fermented matter and rinse the seeds and allow to dry.
- Once the seeds are completely dry, place in a container, label, and store in a cool dry area until needed.
- Since it will take longer to start the plants from seeds, they should be started indoors during the winter months.
How to make your own seed potatoes?
If you buy heirloom seed potatoes, especially those certified by the USDA, you can keep part of your crop each year to plant for the coming year. Keep some of the very best of each crop to use as your seed stock.
It is not unusual for the potatoes to begin to grow a little smaller after a few years of using your own potatoes as seed stock.
What are the reasons for practicing crop rotation?
Crop rotation is the practice of alternating the crops grown in each area of your garden so that you are not planting the same crop in the same area year after year or season after season. For example, you may have one bed where you plant peas or other legumes in the spring to build the soil for other vegetable crops in the fall.
The main reasons for rotating crops are:
- So that certain nutrients in the soil in that particular area will not be continuously used up or depleted of those nutrients but will be replenished by planting another crop.
- To rid the area of pests, weeds, and diseases that are problematic with certain crops.
- To increase the yield by building the soil.
- To reduce soil erosion.
The most common pests and diseases that affect potatoes
These are a few of the most common pests and diseases that affect potatoes and is not meant to be a comprehensive list.
- Aphids – These are tiny insects that can transmit viral diseases. They injure the potato plants by sucking juices from the leaves and stems and can usually be controlled with the use of insecticidal soap sprays.
- Colorado Potato Beetle – Has been found throughout the United States. Adults are yellow with black spots and the larvae are dark red or orange with black spots. Both feed on the potato plant. The adults are easy to spot and check the underside of the leaves for the orange egg masses.
- Flea Beetle – Tiny flea beetles are black or brown and chew holes in the leaves. They can cause serious damage if they attack young plants. The best way to keep down the infestations of flea beetles is by practicing crop rotation.
- Wireworms – The Wireworm is the larvae of the click beetle and is a slender brown or yellow worm that is 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches long. They are usually found when potatoes are planted in an area that was recently sodded. They tunnel into the plant roots and potatoes, spoiling them. Your County Agent will have information on getting rid of the infestation.
- Early Blight – Early blight can affect the foliage or the potatoes and can dramatically reduce the overall yield. Affected leaves develop small brown spots that grow in size and kill the leaves. Affected potatoes develop lesions that are dark, sunken, and circular often bordered by purple to gray raised tissue. The underlying flesh is dry, leathery, and brown. The lesions can increase in size during storage and the potatoes become shriveled. This blight is most often seen in potato gardens in central, southern and eastern states. Planting certified seed and mulching with hay can prevent this disease.
- Late Blight – Late Blight is the most severe disease for tomatoes and potatoes and is the downy mildew fungus that caused the Irish potato famine in the 1840s. The fungus is carried by wind and rain and can be identified by large olive-green to brown spots on the leaves with a fuzzy white fungal growth on the underside. If you suspect you have late blight, contact your County Agent immediately as this is a community disease that spreads quickly and must be dealt with appropriately.
- Mosaic Virus – Aphids can also spread mosaic viruses, which cause potato leaves to curl and appear almost two-toned. Mosaic occurs throughout the United States and not in any particular area. This virus reduces the harvest but will not kill the plants. Some potato varieties are resistant to certain kinds of mosaic.
- Potato Leaf Roll – Potato Leaf Roll is spread by some types of aphids and can be identified by rolled leaves that can be either pink or yellow. Affected plants must be removed and destroyed, and other plants should be sprayed with the appropriate insecticide to reduce the spread of this disease.