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Complete Guide to Growing Potatoes (including videos)

Potatoes, Solanum tuberosum

This article is a complete guide to growing your own potatoes from certified seed stock. Below you'll find a number of explanatory videos and photographs. But if you're just looking for a quick reference then we've got you covered:

Average Seed / oz Seed / 100' Row Average Yield / 100' Row Days to Harvest
NA 10 lbs 100 lbs 60-120
Planting Season Ideal Soil Temp Sun Frost Tolerance
Spring/Fall NA°F Full Sun Very Tolerant
Sowing Method Seed Depth Direct Seed Spacing Seeds Per Packet
Direct Seed 3-4" 12"
Mature Spacing Days to Sprout Production Cycle Seed Viability
12" 10-20 Annual 6-12 months

 

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.

If you know what you're doing and just want to buy some certified seed potatoes then we have a range of organic and gourmet varieties to get you growing. We take pre-orders year round, but seed potatoes generally ship in March.

I’ll be honest from the start: I love potatoes. Potatoes are the one food group I could not live without. Stick me on a desert island and I’ll take some seed potatoes and start a farm. Despite the bad rap potatoes have received in some sectors of western nutrition, the potato has a lot to offer. Carol Deppe, in her book, The Resilient Gardener, discusses five main crop types that every resilient gardener should grow. Potatoes are top of the list. Deppe states:

“In temperate regions there is no crop capable of producing more calories per square foot than the potato.”

A wide range of potato varieties for planting in the home garden

At Sow True Seed, we sell certified seed potatoes, which are very different from potato seeds. Seed potatoes describe prime quality potatoes grown under disease free conditions and sold for the purpose of growing potatoes. When you grow a potato plant from a potato, you are growing a genetically identical clone. Potatoes do sometimes flower and set seed, but that’s a different article!

Can I use store bought potatoes?

It is worth noting here the risks of growing store bought potatoes. Yes, they are cheaper. Yes, they will sprout (although they are often sprayed with growth inhibitors that will affect vigor). But they have not been grown and monitored to be disease free as seed potatoes. Potatoes are prone to many diseases and you certainly don’t want to introduce them into your garden. Many people do grow store bought potatoes and are successful, but if you do it that way you should at least know and weigh the risks.

Potatoes come in a wonderful assortment of skin and flesh colors with purples, blues, reds, yellows, golds and whites. I believe in diversity between crops, but also diversity within crops. So, plant lots of different varieties and find out what works for your garden and your plate. Early potatoes, such as Red Pontiacs, are often eaten as ‘new potatoes’. They are thin skinned and taste great boiled and eaten with melted butter. They mature early, but often don’t store that well. Yukon Golds are a good example of an early potato that stands up well to being left in the ground for a later storing harvest, making it a good all rounder. Late potatoes are often storage potatoes, they are denser and hold up well through the winter. Kennebec is a classic late season storage potato.

All Blue Seed Potato from Sow True Seed

When and How to Plant Potatoes

Potatoes are basically a cool season crop. They like a sunny spot with loose, well-draining soil so that the roots and tubers can develop. Potatoes do not need super-rich soil, but enjoy some organic matter and a balanced (or slightly lower) pH. As a root crop they'd appreciate some phosphorous, adding bonemeal at planting time can help with yields. The well known (and easily remembered) planting date for our region is St. Patrick’s Day, but you can certainly plant earlier and later to spread your harvest window. For other areas the planting should occur about 3-6 weeks before the last killing frost date for your area.

Prior to planting, you’ll cut the seed potato into sections. Each section wants to be about the size of an egg with 3 or 4 eyes. The eyes are where the potato sprouts grow from. If the potato is already sprouting, this isn’t a problem, but be careful not to break them during planting. Some people will cut a couple of days prior to planting and let the potato heal over, this can help with disease and rot. Good rotation is essential for preventing disease. Do not plant where nightshades have been planted in the last four years.

Potato sprouting from its eyes prior to planting

Here are some tried and tested planting methods:

Trench Method – Dig a shallow 6" trench and plant the potatoes with their "eyes" facing up. Cover with 1"-2" of soil and continue to build soil up around the sides in "hills" as the potatoes grow. This keeps the soil loose for growth while preventing exposure to sunlight which creates solanine that turns potatoes green and somewhat toxic. Stop hilling up soil when the plant develops flowers and add a few inches of straw around the plants to help conserve moisture.


Scatter Method – Simply scatter the potatoes right on the soil and cover with 1"-2" of soil, adding more soil and mulch as the potatoes grow. This is not a good option if you have issues with rodents, but is good if you have issues with drainage.

Container Method – Place about 6" of soil in the bottom of a container (tall planter or garbage can with small holes in the bottom for drainage), place plants inside and simply continue to add 1"-2" of soil and straw as they grow.

Growing potatoes in containers

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.  

The plants will flower (or sometimes not) and then begin to die back. Discontinue hilling once the plants begin to flower or die back. They will be ready for digging about two weeks after the dieback. Dig potatoes gently, with hands or a fork. Avoid bruising them. Ideally you’ll harvest after a dry period, but if potatoes are wet allow them to dry prior to storage. There is no need to wash potatoes before storing, but you will need to eat damaged ones as they won’t store well. With proper care you can expect as much as 10 times the yield of what you planted (1lb can become 10lbs).

A potato flower

Common Potato 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. Here is an image chart for identifying the Colorado Potato Beetle.

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 through your local Co-operative Extension Service. 

Potatoes from year to year

Potatoes are one of those crops where the seed to seed part is pretty easy. We’re not dealing with sexual reproduction, so there is no worry about cross pollination. Plant and save as many varieties as you want. Because you want to store potatoes for eating, it is easy to keep a few back for planting the following year. Keep the potatoes in a cool (35-40F) and dark location with moderate humidity and ventilation. I store separate varieties in labeled paper bags in my basement. If stored properly, potatoes can keep for up to 8 months.

Purple Viking seed potato is a super cool looking white fleshed purple pink skinned potato

The additional step for saving seed potatoes for planting is to closely monitor for disease. You can do this during planting, growing and harvesting. Don’t be tempted to risk planting a potentially diseased potato. Check for plant damage, abnormal growth, skin blemishes - anything that would suggest it’s different to the norm. Feel free to eat these, but don’t use them as seed stock! And then follow Deppe’s three rules for disease prevention:

“Rotate. Rotate. Rotate.”  


Comments Contest is Now Closed

 Enter our comments contest for a chance to win an Asheville-made bar of Gardener's Soap (for after potato planting!) and a set of Wooden Plant Markers (so you can keep track of all your colorful potato varieties!). Just leave a comment below answering the question: How do you like to eat your potatoes? A winner will be selected at random on Thursday March 1st.


106 comments

  • Baked with butter and chives!

    Hannah F
  • Browned potatoes: peeled, cut in half and roasted with roast beef or a whole chicken until brown and you can slice through them like butter. Sprinkled with garlic, salt pepper and crushed rosemary. Eaten with butter or thick gravy.

    Colleen Skelton
  • fried tater cakes after having mashed taters

    johnny west
  • I love them hashed or latke style

    Jami Boles
  • I love potatoes cooked any way !

    T c rowland
  • Lately, my favorite way to eat potatoes is Crispy baked Fries. I cut them in wedges, put them in a bowl, pour some olive oil over them, add Himalayan salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and paprika and toss them until they are covered. Spread on a baking pan and bake at 400 degrees until golden brown , turning once. So crispy and tasty!

    Ellen
  • I enjoy flavorful slices of crisp, raw potato sprinkled with salt, reminiscent of days long past when my mom used to give them to my sister and me as she was preparing dinner.

    Tiffany
  • I love eating new potatoes early in the Spring with fresh green beans boiled in a pot.

    Ruby Edmondson
  • I love to eat potatoes anyway especially roasted in a big roasting pan coated with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and Cajun Spice until they are golden brown and crispy.

    Dwayne Winchester
  • We can get a lot of mileage out of potatoes! First day I use them as mashed and the leftovers are used for fried potato cakes done up with onions. My husband makes the best sweet potatoes on the grill drizzled with maple syrup right before eating them.

    Diana Atkins
  • Taters are good cut up and put in the iron pan with onions??????

    Rana
  • I love to put a big ol’ tater in the oven rubbed with a little bit of oil and when it’s almost done stick a nice sprig of fresh rosemary in it and finish baking. Salt and pepper and a little pad of butter … YUM!

    Bobbi Myers
  • My favorite is boiling smaller potatoes with their skins, and eating them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.

    Marty
  • Taters are our go to side dish – boiled, mashed, baked, fried and whatever else we can do to them. Love taters!

    Rebecca P Stancill
  • We call boiled potatoes in white sauce-MawMaw taters in my family. My grandmother always had a huge garden and grew her own potatoes-my uncle plowed the garden with a mule-so there was always plenty of fertilizer!! MawMaw’s taters were the best in the world they also went a long way (there were 12 grandchildren in and out of her house in the summer) ! I still make them for my family and they are still great but, nothing close to hers!

    Angie
  • Daddy……I really do hope this jar of yours I just picked up isn’t that potato hooch you made, or Mommy’s going to be REALLY mad !!

    Gregg Watson
  • Taters are like kids; I never met one I didn’t like, their color doesn’t matter and the more the merrier!

    Sally Burleson
  • Roasted fries with my 6, 4 and almost 2 year old kids ❤️

    Shandra Quirk
  • Fried, mashed, boiled, hashed, baked, in stews soups and casseroles and roasted

    Kim
  • My favorite way to prepare potatoes is escalloped with cheese and ham.

    Linda Hurd
  • I love them fried or baked or stewed, but best of all in some good ole tater salad

    Alice
  • I love potatoes made every which way (even a few slices raw) but when I have time I love to make roasty potatoes. Cut potatoes into slightly larger than bite size pieces and boil till just tender. (Can use yesterdays left over boiled potatoes) Then smother with oil, salt and pepper (and spices & herbs if you like -rosemary, cayenne) then place on a baking sheet under the broiler with the oven rack about 2/3 from bottom . Cook until a light golden brown and crispy on the outside and hot inside, usually about 15 – 20 min.

    audrey
  • Mashed or scalloped or thinly sliced with onions and butter in foil packets on the grill or…

    Patty M
  • I like to eat Potatoes with Bacon Bits and Cheese(Scallop Potatoes) in the oven until cheesy and soft; Then Dollop a spoonful of Sour Cream on Top.

    Joyce Rabideau
  • I like to place sliced potatoes on the bottom of a cast iron pan and pour an egg mixture with sautéed veggie’s over the potatoes and bake! The potato’s act as a crust to the frittata!! So good!!

    Judy
  • Roasted cubes of unpeeled waxy type with garlic cloves, olive oil, herbs

    Deirdre Poe
  • Stewed potatoes! Potatoes , onions,butter, salt and pepper, a little milk, then thicken with flour paste.

    David Randolph
  • After reading all the other comments, I am starving for fried potatoes and onions cooked in my iron skillet. Too bad the ramps aren’t up yet, they add a little Mountain flavor! enjoyed the video and other tater tips!

    Patty
  • I love them mashed or in creamy peas and potatoes!

    Laura Moore
  • I don’t have just one favorite way to eat potatoes – mashed, fried, baked, in soups…. so many options!

    Katrina
  • I would have to say that my favorite way is fried!! Either as french fries, hash browns, home fries, or pub chips! But they are oh so delicious any way you cook them!

    Jennifer Ramos
  • My favorite way? Potato chips!

    Caroline
  • There is no bad way to eat potatoes. My favorite way is fresh out of the garden, boiled and served with real butter and fresh picked parsley.

    Barbara
  • I love them any way they are prepared, but, my favorite is to cut them into small(1/4") pieces,home fry them and serve with fresh ham and eggs from the chicken coop. Best way to start off a day.

    sheldon morgan
  • Love it in potato and kale soup.

    Joana
  • I love them diced and sauteed in butter with a little bit of seasoning

    Martha Waugh
  • I love potato salad and baked potato with butter, sour cream, onion tops cut up, sea salt, fresh ground black pepper YUMM!

    Brigitte
  • Dutch friends introduced us to Stamppot. I like it because it makes use of all of the other things coming out of the garden alongside my potatoes.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamppot

    Jason Schmidt
  • There is no bad way to eat potatoes! Before going plant based I loved them best fried with corned beef! Now probably as salad with lots of fresh onions and parsley.

    Diana Johnson
  • I will eat them about any way, but love making soup with the purple ones.

    Heather Noon
  • I love potatoes with lots and lots of dill and some butter and garlic.

    Stefanie
  • We’ve had much success growing potatoes at the Mullica Township Schoolyard Garden. Our students have enjoyed eating mashed potatoes & crockpot baked potatoes in their classroom.

    Susan Polk
  • Love them any way you cook them, but our usual method is steamed, then served with olive oil and crushed garlic.

    Mary
  • I love my grandpa “Bops” fried potatoes for breakfast. He used cooled baked potatoes that he chopped into small pieces and cooked them in a cast iron skillet with a small amount of onion, salt and pepper. So good and the memories are even better!!!!

    l bryant
  • I like my potatoes chili topped with sour cream, salsa and cheese. Yum!

    Janeen
  • I like baked potatoes with real butter and sour cream and fresh ground pepper.

    Gayle
  • Cute videos. I like to eat potatoes fried, baked and mashed. My husband likes his in pierogies.
    Sue D
  • I love potatoes and onions fried in a cast iron skillet.

    Nina
  • A good ol smoked baked potato cooked over a fire under the stars :)

    Kamala
  • I don’t think there’s a bad way to prepare potatoes. My favorite would be very small whole potatoes cooked in fresh green beans. Thanks for all the info in the videos.

    Mary

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