Potato Planting Time – SPUDTASTIC!
The potato is native to the Andes Mountains of South America where it is a perennial plant. It has steadily become a staple of the Anglo diet since its adoption roughly 400 years ago. Research suggests that it may have been domesticated as long ago as 10,000 years by the native people of that region. Potatoes from the Andes come in all colors and sizes. We are just beginning to see some of this diversity on grocery store shelves as well as in seed catalogs. Examples of this diversity include the Austrian Crescent Fingerling and the Purple Majesty that we offer.
The planting time for potatoes in Western North Carolina is March through mid-April. For other areas the planting should occur about 3-6 weeks before the last killing frost date for your area.
Potatoes grow best in acidic soil (pH 5.0-6.0) with plenty of well rotted manure and organic matter. The soil should be well drained so that the spuds stay drier, reducing the incidence of disease. Double-dig it before planting. Remember not to dig when the soil is too wet or you will damage your soil structure. You want the soil to be friable and loose when you cause any disturbance in the soil profile. Prepare your bed ahead of time because spring rains can be unpredictable. You want to be ready to plant when the weather breaks.
Purchase ONLY certified disease free seed potatoes. By purchasing certified potatoes you prevent importing diseases into your garden. Once established in the garden diseases require work to manage and we all want to reduce our work load and maximize our harvest! If you have saved potatoes for seed choose the best ones with good shape and size. When you are ready to plant cut the seed potatoes into 1-1 ½ oz pieces each with 1 to 2 eyes each, about 2 inches square. You can cure them for one to two days by setting them out to dry or plant them right away. If you know you have soil borne disease problems curing is a good idea, it protects the new ‘seeds’ from getting infected easily.
Spacing and Maintenance
Plant seed potato pieces 5-8 inches deep and 8-12 inches apart. Plant rows 24-36 inches apart. As a rule of thumb, 1 lb of seed potato plants 10 row feet. While the plants grow many growers hill around the stems to cover tubers that might form near the soil surface and to increase yields. Potatoes will keep forming as long as there is “empty” soil above it but take care not to bury them too deep when initially planting or they won’t grow properly. Hilling should be done when the stems are about 6 inches above the soil surface. Gently pull extra soil up the stem creating a ‘hill’ around the plant roots. As the potato plant grows, hill the soil up the sides of the plants rows every couple of weeks. You can stop hilling up when the plants begin to flower, adding a 4-6 inches of straw over the hills to control weeds and conserve moisture.
Check For Potato Pests and Diseases
Check regularly for signs of insects and disease. The Colorado Potato Beetle usually finds its way to most crops. Luckily the brightly colored orange/yellow eggs on the underside of the leaves are easy to find and squish. Beetles can be hand collected (chickens will love them!) and removed from the crop as an initial control. Plants can also be covered with row covers to prevent beetles from landing on the crop in early spring.
Late blight, the disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine can be a challenge as well. It enjoys cool temperatures and moist conditions throughout the growing season and causes water soaked spots on leaves of potato and tomato crops. Good air circulation and early drying of dew off leaves each day helps prevent the spread of the disease. Never touch leaves while they are wet and prune out diseased areas quickly. If you anticipate a problem with late blight you can find more information on this disease at: http://growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu/growingsmallfarms-lateblight/
Which Potato Should I Grow?
Picking your variety might be a high priority for you. Sow True Seed carries organic and certified disease free seed potatoes. The Red Pontiac can be eaten as a new potato, but is generally used as a high yielding late potato with good storage characteristics. The Yukon Gold has an excellent culinary reputation with its smooth, yellow, buttery flesh and ability to store well. If you are looking for a mid-season variety the russet type potato Kennebec is a good choice with good late blight resistance and storage ability.
When the leafy tops of your potatoes wither it’s time to harvest. Dig the spuds gently to minimize bruising or nicks. If you do damage some eat them right away (whoa, what hardship!) and save the undamaged spuds for storage. Allow the potatoes to dry out for about a week in a dark place, 50-60 degrees and fairly high humidity. This allows the skins to harden and any small nicks for heal over. Gently remove dry soil from the skins and store. Ideal storage for potatoes is 40-45 degrees in high humidity, a cool basement usually does well. You don’t want potatoes to freeze or they become useless. If stored in an overly cool place they will turn their starch into sugar and become oddly sweet. A week in a warmer area will convert the sugar back to starch and render them more palatable.
So enjoy arrival of spring with the planting of your spuds! There is nothing quite as fine as buttered new potatoes with fresh garden peas to get your palate prepared for the celebrations each harvest brings through the growing season.
Recipe: New Potatoes & Peas
From EatingWell: May/June 1991
This simple side is a triple treat of spring delights: new potatoes, spring onions and fresh green peas. The flavors are so delicate that all that’s needed to finish the dish is just a touch of butter, a few grinds of black pepper and some chopped fresh mint.
6 servings | Active Time: 20 minutes | Total Time: 20 minutes
- 1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed
- 12 spring onions or scallions, bulbs whole, tops chopped (optional)
- 2 cups shelled fresh peas, (about 3 pounds unshelled) or frozen peas
- 2 teaspoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, or more to taste
- Place potatoes and onions (or scallions, if using) in a small saucepan, barely cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat until just tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Add peas, cover and cook until tender, about 1 minute. Drain, add butter, pepper and mint. Heat for 1 minute, tossing gently.