Basics of Growing Potatoes
Kevin Felts 02.17.17
Potatoes are some of the easiest crops to grow and have been cultivated for hundreds of years by people all over the world.
In the southern part of the United States, from the middle of February to the first of March is when potatoes are usually planted.
Let’s talk about some of the basics, such as buying seed potatoes, fertilizer, planting, growing and finally harvesting. This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s not. As with anything else grown in a home garden, this is a labor of love.
Buying Seed Potatoes
Read that carefully, you buy “seed potatoes” and not “potato seeds.” There is a big difference. Potatoes are not planted from seed. They are grown from other spuds.
Call a local family owned farm supply store and ask them if they have any seed potatoes. If they do, buy them a couple of weeks before you are going to plant. Store the spuds in a cool dry place. An old wives tale said to store them under your bed.
You want the potatoes to start sprouting “eyes.” No, the potatoes do not use the eyes to look around. Nor are they going to sprout a head, arms, or legs, just eyes. The “eyes” are sprouts and do not look like eyes. No, I do not know why they are called eyes.
Since you seem to have an issue with the word “eye,” let’s just call them spouts.
Cutting the Potatoes
We want to take the potato and section it up so that each sprout has a chunk of spud under it. Cut the potatoes into chunks a few days, maybe a week or so, before they are to be planted.
Some people dip the cut part in lime powder or fireplace ashes after they are cut. Personally, I do not dip my cuttings in anything.
Be careful not to cut yourself.
If you want to have something to show the kids, put some water on a cookie sheet, then set a couple of cuttings in the water. In a few days the cuttings should sprout roots.
Preparing and Planting
There are some methods for growing potatoes in straw, in buckets, or in tires, etc. I grow my potatoes in the ground, where they are supposed to be. Use a tiller, hoe, tractor, children, grandkids, whatever you have on hand to work the soil. Break up clumps and remove any rocks.
For fertilizer I use 13-13-13 or 10-20-10. Compost can be used also. For small garden plots I may add some organic potting soil and till it in. Spread the fertilizer, compost, or whatever you are using and mix it into the soil.
I do not make raised rows; that comes later. I plant the potato around an inch to an inch and a half deep. Plant the cutting with the eye looking up. Remember the old saying, eye to the sky.
The chunk of potato will grow roots and will provide the sprout nutrients as it starts to grow.
When the sprout breaks through the soil, wait until it is several inches tall, then use a hoe, rake, child, grandchild, whatever you have on hand and work soil up around the sprout. As the sprout grows you will slowly make rows or mounds up around the plant.
The potatoes will grow in the mounds you made. This is why you did not make raised rows when the potato was planted.
Potatoes can take four or five months to mature. After around three months, I spread fertilizer around the plant and rake it up into the mound. Do this right before a good rain. The water will help wash the fertilizer into the soil.
The harvest is a combination of things most kids love to do. Kids love digging in the dirt and they love finding stuff.
Bring the kids or grandkids up to the plants. Tell them it is time to harvest the potatoes. If this is their first time, the kids may look at you and ask “where are they at?”
Get down on the ground with the kids, show them how to dig, and watch the excitement when that first potato rolls out of the soil.
Mission accomplished. Not only have you grown your own food, you have taught your children and grandchildren where food comes from.