Everything You Need To Know About Potatoes

Posted: February 27, 2014

Organic and Traditional Seed Potatoes Asheville NC

“Never take a knife to your potato,” my father said as he showed me how to gently and deliberately split the holy baked spud with a fork. Add butter and maybe some salt and you have a masterpiece! You see, my great grandfather was Secretary of Agriculture in the state of Maine.  And since Maine grows a ‘wicked good’ potato, the Irish delicacy held a reverence in our house that no other vegetable did.

This vegetable, a tuber (root structure that stores nutrients), is a powerhouse in the subsistence garden. It is easy to grow, its culture can be modified for small spaces and containers and it’s a delightful meal fresh from the earth or stored for later.  We sell what are called ‘seed potatoes’, not technically seeds but potatoes ideal for beginning new plants in your own garden.

Organic and Traditional Seed Potatoes Asheville NCHow To Plant And Grow Potatoes

Potatoes like cool weather. An old timer I used to know said to plant potatoes on Good Friday, but depending on the date this could be early or late. The best time in WNC to plant potatoes is between the first or second week of March and the third week of April.    They like well amended and well drained soil.

In order to plant the potatoes they are cut into 2 inch cubes each containing at least one eye. These can be planted as soon as they are cut, 12 inches apart in rows about 30” apart. If you are planting a 100’ row with 1- 1 1/2 ounce cubes spaced 12” apart you will need 9 -12 pounds of seed potatoes.  Plant the cubed potatoes about 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches deep.

Organic and Traditional Seed Potatoes Asheville NC Yukon Gold

Hilling, Straw-Method and Containers for Potatoes

Hilling is the method of piling soil on top of the potatoes as they grow. Personally, I’m not a fan of hilling, in part because it takes precious time and energy from a busy spring schedule.

I use the straw method. You plant your row of potatoes and mulch heavily with good quality straw 6” deep. This method prevents tubers close to the surface from receiving light that will ruin them by turning them green, it minimizes weeds, conserves moisture and prevents disease.  Why not do it this way?!

However, if you are an urban gardener you have many options as well!  You can plant potatoes in old coffee sacks or 5-gallon containers. You can  grow a Potato Tower by creating a box with hardware wire and filling it with compost or soil. In this method the tower is partially filled with compost and the potatoes are planted in the bottom. As the plants grow, more soil is added until the entire tower is full.  The buried stems of the potato will make new spuds vertically.  Although I have not tried this, I think the biggest challenge of this method is likely keeping it well watered all the way through the tower.  If you try this method with our potatoes write us and let us know how it works!

Organic and Traditional Seed Potatoes Asheville NC Kennebec

Potato Pests and Diseases

Keep an eye out for the orange potato beetle and late blight.  Both the insect and the disease are easy to identify.  Beetles and their brightly colored yellow eggs can be smushed regularly.  Late Blight can be prevented by planting your potatoes in a place with good air circulation and not over fertilizing.

Potato Harvesting

Finally, potatoes can be harvested when the vines die back.  Waiting two weeks after the vines dies back helps cure the skins.  Some folks will leave potatoes in the ground to harvest over time but I like to dig them up lest small furry mammals or other pests discover them.  They should be cure in a dark, cool place with good air circulation and high humidity before storing them for longer.

12 Responses to Everything You Need To Know About Potatoes

  1. R Allan Pommer says:

    Why do some of my larger potatoes have hollow centers and what can I do to prevent this in the future?

  2. Nicole says:

    Thanks for this article! I’ve never grown potatoes but I want to try them this year. I’m going with the 5-gallon bucket method, but I’m a little confused – do I need the potato tower with the bucket? How far down into the soil should I plant them, and once they start growing, should I put more soil on top? Thanks! :)

  3. Mariel says:

    What potato is the most heat tolerant? I live half of my year at latitude 18 (Caribbean) and we are growing more food there now.
    But, none of my friends are yet growing potatoes. Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated and widely shared.
    Thanks – m

  4. admin says:

    Mariel: the honest advice is that potatoes aren’t really that heat tolerant and are pretty sensitive to high temperatures. There are some varieties that are grown in Texas (Century Russet and Russet Norkotah for example), but it may be worth exploring other heat tolerant starchy tubers like Yams and Yuccas. We’d love to know how your experiments go!

  5. admin says:

    Hi Nicole – you can think of a potato tower as a large container because the planting system will be the same for both. You basically place potatoes on a thin layer of soil and cover them with about 6″ of soil. The potato vines will grow upwards towards the light and as shoots appear just keep covering them up with soil and they’ll produce potatoes! Once you are at the top of our container let the vines grow out and flower and look forward to a container full of spuds :-)

  6. admin says:

    Hi Allan, there is actually a condition called Hollow Heart. The good news is that the potatoes are still edible and it’s not a parasitic or fungal or insect problem. It’s basically when small potatoes are planted in cool moist conditions and there is a sudden warm period that causes rapid growth, which causes the hole in the centre. One method to combat this is to plant larger seed potatoes, the theory being that you’ll already be past the ‘growth spurt’ danger stage. We’d love to hear how you get on this year.

  7. Rita says:

    Is there any chance you’ll have seed potatoes available for a fall crop? I’d love to grow potatoes in the fall for winter storage.

  8. Sow True Seed says:

    This is a great question! The sad answer is no, we don’t sell seed potatoes available for fall crop. Our suggestions would be exploring the possibility of replanting some of your spring/summer crop, and then also planting excellent keepers like the Kennebec potato. Hope this helps.

  9. Shelby says:

    Can you eat the seed potatoes if you have left overs after planting?

  10. Sow True Seed says:

    Officially to sell things as ‘food’ they need to have the seller needs FDA approval. Our seed potatoes are not FDA approved. If the question is, are seed potatoes edible? then the answer is yes, but I’d be happier eating organic seed potatoes over conventional.

  11. Jessica says:

    I had the same question as Rita: no one sells Fall potato seeds. Soooo… the market is wide open!

  12. Sow True Seed says:

    We’re looking into this…!

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