I’ve always liked to grow vegetables but potatoes have never really been on my list. I love potatoes but they do take up a fair amount of room and are always quite cheap to buy so they’ve been missed. After reading a great book, The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, I’ve had a change of heart about growing my own potatoes.
Why You Should be Growing Your Own Potatoes
What most of us don’t realize is that potatoes are one of the most “treated” crops out there. It all begins in early spring with a soil fumigant, which kills nematodes and disease in the soil. Fields are doused with a chemical toxic enough to kill all traces of microbial life. Next comes a herbicide to “clean” the fields of all weeds. At planting time a systemic insecticide is applied to the soil which will be absorbed by the seedlings and kill any insects on their leaves. Later a second herbicide is sprayed on the field for weed control.
The pesticide and chemical fertilizers are added to the irrigation system (10 weekly sprayings of chemical fertilizer). Later comes a spraying of fungicide to control blight. On top of this the fields will be sprayed with toxic chemicals by air for aphids at 14 day intervals. Wow, I just lost my appetite for French fries! The only way around this is to either buy organic, or buy from a very small producer who may be skipping some of these steps, or grow your own.
How to Grow Potatoes
The best approach to planting potatoes is to start with seed potatoes, organic if you can find them. Potatoes you buy at the store may have been treated chemically to prevent the eyes from sprouting. Each potato will have several small dents in it which are called eyes and where the new sprouts will emerge. Cut your potatoes into good size pieces making sure each piece has 2 or 3 eyes. Spread your freshly cut pieces out on a tray in a bright, airy place for about a day to allow the cut sides to slightly dry.
Potatoes do need quite a bit of space and enjoy fertile, slightly acidic, well-drained soil in full sun. It is best to choose a spot where potatoes, tomatoes or other night shade vegetables have not grown recently. They can be planted 2 to 3 weeks before your last frost date or as soon as you can work your soil as long as it is not too wet. Plant your pieces about 8 inches apart with eyes facing upward and in rows about 3 feet apart. You can make one long trench or dig separate holes, then cover your seed potatoes with 5 inches of soil.
As your vines grow you will want to “hill” your potatoes. This simply means to take a hoe and till up the soil around them to keep the growing tubers covered. When you leave only a small part of the vines exposed you are encouraging extra root development and therefore more potatoes. As well, light turns potatoes green, these green areas are poisonous as are the white sprouts from the eyes. Watering will be necessary in dry weather.
How to Harvest and Store Your Potatoes
When you observe the purple or white flowers, this indicates there are fresh new potatoes down below. If you plan to store potatoes leave them in the ground until a few weeks after the foliage has withered and browned off. Be sure to dig them up before a hard frost hits. Use a digging fork and dig from the outside of the hill to prevent damaging your potatoes. Try to dig on a dry day when your soil is drier as well. Do not wash your potatoes before storing and place them in a cold, dark, and well ventilated area.
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