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How to Grow Potatoes in 5 Easy Steps
Did you know the average American eats 142 pounds of potatoes a year? Or almost 365 potatoes per person–that’s an average of a potato a day!
The potato is the most consumed food in the United States, so why not learn to grow your own potatoes in just 5 Easy Steps?
The property we own originally belonged to my husband’s granddaddy and two other family members; his granddaddy bought the farm from the others in 1917. We built a house and moved here in 1994.
Of course, I had to have a garden, and potatoes are a large component of our garden. There must be something in our soil that potatoes need, because they’re the best tasting I’ve ever had.
We usually plant a 50 pound bag of Kennebec (white) seed potatoes; this year we added 10 pounds of red potatoes.
I’m excited about that; it’s the first time we’ve planted anything other than Kennebec.
If you’re just planting a few potatoes, you could certainly plant them in cages, grow bags, or buckets.
I’ve seen articles where people just drop the potato on the ground and cover it with straw as the plant grows.
We plant too many to use those methods.
How to Grow Potatoes in 5 Easy Steps: Step #1 Work the Soil
We use a tractor with several different plowing implements, both while planting and harvesting. We start by hooking up the turning plow and turning the soil. This year, we added additional rows to accommodate the red potatoes; that meant we were not just turning garden soil, but sod with grass. Those clumps of grass-covered sod needed to be removed from the planting area. Ideally, we should have turned it last fall; that would have given time for the grass clods to decompose.
After turning the garden, we replaced the turning plow with the disk harrow. It’s used to break up the large clods of dirt and smooth it out a bit. Then it’s time for the layoff plow which makes our rows a standard distance from each other. It plows on both sides of the row, with the actual row being the deepest furrow.
How to Grow Potatoes in 5 Easy Steps: Step #2- Prep the Seed Potatoes & Planting
The next step is to cut and sow the potatoes. Mike’s job is to cut them; you want to have at least two eyes in each piece. It’s better if you can do this step a few days before planting, giving them time to dry, but it usually doesn’t happen that way around here. The weather is a huge factor when planting potatoes. If the ground is too damp, taking the tractor through it can compact the soil, causing all sorts of problems, so this is the way potato planting happened at our house this year.
Mike had a day off from work, and the ground was dry enough to plow. The forecast was calling for a week of rain starting the next day, so that meant Mike’s day off was the perfect day to plant potatoes. It also meant there was no time to let the cut potatoes dry.
I took the pieces, dropping them in the rows, about twelve inches apart.
After that, we attached the cultivating plow with blades or points that are set in such way that they cover the rows of potatoes with a mound of soil, commonly referred to as hilling the potatoes.
We planted potatoes on March 10; on April 18, we worked around the upper two rows with hoes.
This was the new ground; we still had some large clods of grass, some on top and some under the surface.
They needed to be removed, so we can use the tractor to plow between the rows, while hilling more soil around the growing plants.
We can usually use the tractor twice during the growing season, to weed between the rows and hill the potatoes before the plants get large enough that the underside of the tractor can’t clear them.
After that, all weeding and hilling has to be done with a tiller and hoe or just the hoe; last year, I did not use the tiller for weeding.
How to Grow Potatoes in 5 Easy Steps: Step #3 Fertilize
We usually fertilize soon after planting and once more during the season. We walk through the rows on a regular basis, checking for potato bugs. They are “squished” immediately; while Mike uses his fingers, I prefer my shoe. You can also drop the bugs into a bucket or jar of water.
How to Grow Potatoes in 5 Easy Steps: Step #4 Hilling
You can “gravel” new potatoes throughout the growing season; it’s a taste of what’s to come. It’s important to keep the rows well-hilled; you don’t want potatoes exposed to the sun, causing green spots. If the potatoes do have a green spot, here and there, we just cut that part off and eat the rest. I’m not sure if that’s the official way to do it, but we haven’t died yet.
How to Grow Potatoes in 5 Easy Steps: Step #5 Harvest and Dry
Wait until the vines are completely dead before you dig your potatoes. We use the tractor and bush-hog to mow weeds several days before digging, letting the ground dry well. Yes, there are weeds; there comes a point that we just let it go.
We use the potato spade to actually dig the potatoes. It’s exciting to see the potatoes roll out of the ground.
We never go through the row only once. Generally, we go through, above, and below the row.
We might plow through a row four, five, or six times. If potatoes are still rolling out, you keep plowing. You don’t want to miss any, but you do; those come up the next year as volunteers.
It’s important to let potatoes cure before putting them in storage.
We lay ours out on a large trailer and back it into the barn. It’s not a fully enclosed barn, so there’s adequate airflow to dry them and protect them from direct sunlight and the risk of their turning green.
We leave them there for about a week; again, it depends on our schedule.
The final step is getting them in the basement; we have shelves in a small room we call the “potato room”.
Each potato is inspected and sorted into baskets. Any that have rotted are tossed; those that have cuts that haven’t healed are separated from the others.
We use those first, so they don’t have time to rot. It’s also a good idea to look through your potatoes periodically to remove any that are questionable.
That’s the way we plant and harvest our potato crop; I hope you find it helpful.
This article is a guest post by Karen Gee Seay
Karen is from Virginia and enjoys farming.
She and her husband raised two children and live on 60 acres that have been in the family over 100 years.
Along with various fruit trees, they grow potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, garlic, and herbs.
This year they are adding carrots and onions. It is Karen’s dream to add livestock back to their farm some day.