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How to Grow Potatoes, Rather Big Potatoes!

Homesteading has become a main focus since purchasing our property. As we grow, so do our experiences! Join me on the ride!

This is a young potato plant, at about 4 weeks of age.

This is a young potato plant, at about 4 weeks of age.

Have You Ever Grown Potatoes?

Choosing the Ideal Seed Potato

Before you intend to plant, ensure that you choose the right seed potato so that you prevent disease into your soil, use productive seed tubers, and have potatoes that meet your needs. Some potatoes are waxier in nature, so they are well suited for being roasted, boiled, and stewed. Other potatoes are more starchy. These are ideal for mashing and baking; you might be familiar with the popular Russet potato for your family's mashed potatoes. Seed potatoes should be certified against disease, and most sold in stores are. Otherwise, there are dozens of diseases that could be introduced into your soil. Black Heart, Blight, Potato Scab, and much more can be passed on in infected tubers. Another consideration is your climate. Is the growing season long enough to grow late season tubers? If not, you might opt for short season or mid season varieties. Once you find healthy, certified seed tubers that can meet your needs in garden and in the kitchen, it's time to plant!

Red Norland Seed Potatoes

Red Norland Seed Potatoes

Planting Methods for Seed Potatoes

There are hundreds of ways to plant seed potatoes! They can be planted in the garden using the traditional hilling method as most farms do, or they can be planted using the "no dig" method. For the no dig method, tubers are placed on disturbed ground, covered with 4 inches of dirt or compost, then they are mulched later on; usually with herbicide and pesticide free straw. Upon harvest, plants & tubers required absolutely no digging. Potato towers are a similar concept,and are usually built out of wooden panels or using round wire cages made of hardware cloth or fencing. The potatoes grow up through the straw, and the cages are simply pulled up when harvest season comes. Container planting is one of the most popular ways to plant potatoes, allowing them to be grown anywhere that receives plenty of light and warmth. Containers need to be at least 5 gallons in size. Some container examples include:

  • Hardware buckets
  • Icing buckets
  • Large flower pots
  • Gardening grow bags
  • Trash cans
  • Old bath tubs
  • Plastic totes
  • Laundry baskets
  • Old aquariums
  • Barrels
  • Boxes
  • Livestock troughs

Chitting Potatoes: What Is Chitting, and Why Should We Do It?

Most seeds are planted, then we see the sprouts erupt from the surface of the earth. While we could do this with potatoes, it takes far longer. Instead, most people choose to chit potatoes before they are planted in the ground. Chitting is simply another term for sprouting; but unlike seedlings, potato tubers send out new plants from within themselves rather than a seed Tubers produce clones of the mother plant, as they are a piece of the mother plant. Seeds are produced through the reproductive system of a plant, and while potatoes do produce flowers, fruit, and seeds, potato plants are rarely grown from seed. It simply takes longer, and the seedling will not produce the same tubers.

Since it can take weeks before a potato will break through the dirt, chitting speeds up the process. By allowing a tuber to sprout before planting, you will cut down the time to harvest. Another benefit to chitting is maximizing production. Seed tubers can be cut to allow 1 to 2 sprouts per hill. One seed potato could plant 1 to 4 hills, depending on size. If potatoes are planted before chitting, it's hard to know how many of the eyes will produce healthy sprouts, resulting in some hills with too many plants, while others might be bare.

How Much Did You, or Would You, Enjoy Growing Potatoes?

Avoid Frost at All Costs!

Frost and freezing temperatures can be lethal for potato plants. They will come back, so do not worry if you get hit with an unexpected frost! However, their growth will not be as quick after frost occurs. The plant itself will die, but the tuber will send up new foliage. As a matter of fact, the only parts of the plant that will die are those exposed to the frost. However, we don't want our potato plants to become stunted or for our potato harvests to be on the low end. To help protect plants, keep them heavily mulched with straw, leaves, or hay. They can also be hilled up quite high during the earliest weeks after planting. For potato beds, try using a light bed sheet over the potato plants to minimize any damage. While it might not get down to freezing, the frost itself will damage the foliage. The bed sheets must be pulled off shortly after dawn, so that the potato plants can soak up the sun's rays for the day.

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Care and Fertilizer Requirements for Potatoes

In order to have a truly successful potato crop, it is essential to provide the potatoes with everything that they need to thrive. Potatoes tend to be very hardy plants, and can grow in nearly any conditions. However, that does not mean they will produce a good crop. Conditions must be exceptional, as tubers are energy storage vessels for the potatoes. If conditions aren't ideal, there will not be enough energy to store.

Potatoes need to have moist soil at all times, but it must be well drained. Saturated roots and tubers can lead to disease and fungal infection. Potatoes need full sun as well, 8+ hours per day. They can survive with less, but again they may not perform well.

Fertilizing potatoes can be tricky. They need a low nitrogen fertilizer that is high in potassium and phosphorous. A fertilizer that supplies too much nitrogen will cause the plant to produce a mammoth sized plant, but few or small tubers. This is because the plant will focus its energy on growing lots of leafy foliage rather than tubers. Too little phosphorous or potassium could stunt tuber and root development, leading to an unsatisfactory harvest as well.


Growing Soilless Potatoes: Hydroponics, Sand, Sawdust, & Mulch

Believe it or not, potatoes can be grown successfully without soil! Potatoes will of course need water, sunlight, and a balanced fertilizer. Since soil free mediums will not offer much in regards to nutrition, I cannot stress the importance of a balanced fertilizer enough. The growing medium must be loose, able to hold moisture, and keep the developing tubers from being exposed to light. Potatoes are very widely grown in mulches; straw in particular. Potatoes are grown in straw because it not only covers the potatoes, it holds moisture very well and insulates potatoes from both the cold and the heat. The amazing insulation properties of straw can keep potatoes producing quite well even in the dog days of summer; that is, as long as the tubers are laid on bare land. The land helps to stabilize the temperature of the root system.

In hydroponics, potatoes can be very successful. But, since it is a root crop, it can be very tricky. The potatoes will grow in a dark tub, while the foliage grows up and out through a small hole. the support system must be adapted, as typical baskets will hinder tuber development. The tubers will attempt to grow inside of the hydroponic plant basket rather than outside of it. With the correct lighting and proper hydroponic fertilizer, the potatoes will grow quite well!

How to Know When to Harvest Your Potatoes

Right after flowering and fruiting, the plants will begin to die back. Stop watering as soon as you notice the plants are dying. Once they die, trim them back to the ground. Allow the tubers to rest for about two weeks. This is important, as it allows the tubers to dry and form a tough skin. This skin is important for potatoes that are going to be stored, especially through the winter months. Once the two weeks have passed, carefully pull up or dig the plants up, staying approximately 18" away from the stem. This helps you to avoid scratching or cutting tubers with your pitchfork or shovel. Clean the potatoes gently, and allow them to dry for a few more days indoors before storing.


angryelf (author) from Tennessee on December 03, 2017:

Liz, you most definitely can!!! The two biggest issues with store spuds are disease and growth retardants. Organic potatoes won't contain the chemicals used to prevent sprout growth, but both organic and inorganic can spread disease into your soil at home. Some of those diseases will obliterate entire crops and survive in the soil for a very long time. It's one of those "better safe than sorry" situations ;) thanks for dropping in!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on December 02, 2017:

Interesting. We have always heard that you can grow potatoes just from cutting up any store-bought ones that have sprouted. Just cut out the eyes with sprouts, and stick them in the ground, is what we have heard and read.

On reading your article, obviously, there is more to it than that. ;-)

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