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If you have ever tasted new potatoes fresh from the garden, they you know why they are one of the most planted vegetables in the home garden.
Potatoes can be planted in early spring, as soon as the soil temperature has reached 45 degrees F. If planting in containers, you may be able to start them even earlier. Whether in the ground or in a pot, you must protect them from any hard frost or late season freeze that may occur.
Prior to planting, cut your seed potatoes so that each piece has 1 or 2 ‘eyes’ or buds. Each eye will sprout, so avoid planting large potatoes with several eyes in the same hole. The stems will compete with each other for nutrients and water, resulting in a reduced yield and smaller potatoes.
If planting in the ground or a raised bed, dig a trench about 6-8 inches deep and space your tubers 12 inches in moist, not wet, soil. Working some slow release organic fertilizer into the soil prior to planting will help them get off to a good start. Plant your potatoes, cut side down, about 3 inches deep.
If planting in containers, fill your container halfway with soil, work in a slow release organic fertilizer then place your tubers on top of the soil, cut side down. Cover your tubers with about 3-4 inches of soil.
The potatoes grow on stems above the seed potatoes, so in order to keep them covered, you will have to ‘hill’ them. If exposed to sunlight, the potatoes will turn green, and green potatoes can be toxic if eaten. When your potato vines are about 6-8 inches tall, bury the plant with more soil, straw, or hay, leaving only the top 4 inches exposed. Repeat the process when the plant has grown another 8 inches. You can continue to hill until the vines start to flower.
If hilling seems too much trouble, you can prepare your soil as above, either in the ground or a container, and plant your potato tubers 8-9 inches deep. It will take longer for the potato vine to sprout, and you may not get as big of a harvest, but you will not need to hill it unless the potatoes start to pop out of the soil.
Once the vines are flowering, you can dig into the soil and harvest some of the small, new potatoes, leaving the rest to continue growing. Stop watering once the vines have finished flowering. When the vines have died back, the potatoes are ready to harvest. Under ideal conditions, you can expect to harvest 5-10 pounds per plant, depending on variety.
(If growing the potatoes for storage, you can leave the potatoes in the ground until ready to use, or a freeze is predicted.)
After harvesting, place your potatoes in a well-ventilated, warm, dark area to dry for about a week. Do not wash your potatoes! Once dried, lightly brush any dirt off and store in a cool (38-45 degrees) area, such as a basement or root cellar.