It seems like everyone has their own favorite way to plant potatoes. Some presprout their seed potatoes, some don’t. Some cut their potatoes ahead of time and let them cure, some don’t. Some dig holes for the potatoes, and some just lay them on top of the ground and cover with a heap of compost. Those of you who’ve been following my posts for a while won’t be surprised to hear that I planted my potatoes this year according to Steve Solomon’s recommendations in Gardening When It Counts. (I ♥ Steve!)
My Yukon Gold organic seed potatoes arrived March 12 from Wood Prairie Farm in Maine. I ordered them from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and this is their supplier. Apparently, seed potatoes are generally grown in cold climates, which, like the potatoes’ native Andes, keep disease to a minimum. I only ordered 1 lb. this year, thinking it would be best to start small and see how easy potato growing was, but if I’d looked directly at Wood Prairie Farm’s website, I think I would have bought a bit more, since the price per pound is much better even ordering just the next size up. Oh, well. Next year!
When I got the potatoes, I put them on a little tray by a window in the basement that gets full sun only early in the morning. The sun helps the sprouts get green and strong, but you don’t want too much sun or a room that’s too warm, because that will dry out the potatoes. You can presprout (“chit”) your potatoes for up to 6 weeks. If I’d received them earlier, I would have left them longer, but it was getting to be planting time after just a week and half, so even though the sprouts were only small, I decided to get them in the ground. It’s been so warm here recently that I think they’ll probably grow almost as fast in the ground as they would in the house. And this way they can start making roots, too.
The day before I planted out the potatoes, I prepared the ground. (I’m not sure why Steve Solomon says to do this a day or two ahead. Maybe it’s just how it works best logistically in his garden, if he has a large patch to get ready? Anyway, I followed his instructions…) Since I was only planting one row–and a short one at that–I decided to make it 4 feet wide instead of 3. To determine how long it needed to be, I weighed the seed potatoes I’d been sent, to see if any of them were going to need to be cut in two. 1-1/2 oz. is apparently the optimal weight for a seed potato. Since the 7 pieces I had were each somewhere between 1-1/2 oz. and 2-1/4 oz., I left them all whole, even though some had more than two eyes. Solomon suggests spacing potatoes 8″ to 12″ apart in the row. I decided on 12″, because the plants would be better able to handle drought that way. That meant 7 feet of row.
In my 4′ x 7′ row, I turned over all the dirt to a shovel’s depth. Then I dug a trench longways down the middle, again to a shovel’s depth. In it, I scattered 3-1/2 cups of my home-mixed organic fertilizer, with one difference: I made this small batch without any limestone. Apparently potatoes prefer a slightly acid soil, and a soil that’s too alkaline can cause potato scab. So I left the dolomitic limestone and gypsum out of the fertilizer for the potatoes. Once the fertilizer was in the trench, I dug into the soil below it, loosening it and mixing in the fertilizer to another shovel’s depth. After that, I dumped a 40-lb. bag of compost on the pile of dirt I took out of the trench, and then pushed everything back in, giving me a low mound over what was the trench.
The next day, I dug 4″-deep holes one foot apart down the center of the mound and lay my little seed potatoes in, putting the side with the most sprouts facing up. I recovered with soil, and then…that was all! Pretty darn simple. In a few weeks (hopefully after the last frost), the vines will emerge. And once they start getting tall, I’ll hill up some more earth around them. For now, though, mission accomplished.