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! My great grandfather was the Secretary of Agriculture in the state of Maine.  Maine grows a ‘wicked good’ potato, so the Irish delicacy held a reverence in our house that no other vegetable did.

This 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. It’s a delightful meal fresh from the earth or stored for later.  At Sow True Seed, we sell what are called ‘seed potatoes,’ which are not technically seeds but potatoes ideal for beginning new plants in your own garden.
Organic and Traditional Seed Potatoes Asheville NC

How 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, cut them into 2 inch cubes each containing at least one eye. Plant these after a few days to make sure the exposed flesh does not mold, and instead has made a thin skin over the newly cut part. Plant them 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

Growing Methods

Hilling is the method of piling soil on top of the potatoes as they grow. Potatoes will create new roots from the stem when you hill them up, creating more opportunity to create tubers off of those roots. This is a great method for small spaces to maximize your yield with height.

I use the straw method. 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.

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, partially fill the tower with compost. Plant potatoes in the bottom. As the plants grow, add soil until the entire tower is full. The buried stems of the potato will make new spuds vertically.

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. Avoid over-fertilizing.

Potato Harvesting

Harvest potatoes 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.


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21 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?

    • 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.

  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! 🙂

    • 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 🙂

  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

    • 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!

  4. 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.

    • 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.

  5. Shelby says:

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

    • 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.

  6. Jessica says:

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

  7. Amy says:

    1. Is the planting process different for Fingerling potatoes?
    2. I have read that the cubes cut from seed potatoes need to heal for a day or two before planting. Have you noticed any difference in planting newly-cut or healed cubes?
    3. Have you ever planted potatoes directly on the soil surface then covered with 10″ of straw?

    • Sow True Seed says:

      Hi Amy:
      1. The planting process for fingerlings is the same as normal potatoes. Because they are smaller you will get less sections per potato.
      2. The healing process is one of those much discussed things among potato growers – I have not noticed a difference.
      3. I have used the straw method – it works and produces a clean potato.

  8. Jo says:

    Much to my surprise, I grew good sized potatoes in my compost pile just from throwing away the eyes!

  9. florence nicholson says:

    I live in Canada? How can I get a seed catolog and do you mail to Canada?

  10. Douglas Morgan says:

    I live in Wilmington NC and grew up on a farm until I was 15 years old. I have gardened on a regular basis since 1960. I would like to order 2 or 3 purple potatoes strictly on a trial basis. Please let me know the cost and the time to order them.
    Douglas Morgan,

  11. Lori says:

    Hi. We planted our fingerlings on Mar 26, here in sc. They are in containers, which we’ve done before. This year the leaves are turning yellow and brown and dying, they never flowered. Is there a way to save them? What’s happening?


    • Hey Lori, let’s do some troubleshooting.

      Are the leaves turning yellow and then brown from the bottom up? This could mean you have wireworms eating the potatoes from the root. They are the larva of the click beetle. Sometimes if you plant root crops in the same spot as the previous year, the wireworms will infest the soil and then stay there year after year, so it’s good to rotate where you plant carrots, onions, beets, and potatoes, possibly other root crops that are appealing to wireworms. If wireworms have already gotten to your crop, it’s hard to treat for them organically. For next year though, you can turn the soil and expose the worms so they get picked up by birds or burn up. You can also use potatoes as traps for wireworms, or add nematodes to the soil.

      Or maybe the leaves are yellow all over and not just from the bottom? Check under the leaves to see if there are small webs. This could mean you have spider mites, which are pretty easy to treat if you spray your plants down with water vigorously and/or make an insecticidal soap spray.

      It could also be as simple as they aren’t getting enough water, though judging by the fact that you say they were successful the year before, it sounds like you have a good watering routine. But just in case, you can check soil moisture by sticking your finger in the dirt nearby and if you feel moisture an inch deep, they have good moisture. If not, they need some water.

      If none of these causes seem applicable, depending on the way the leaves have changed color, it could also be a virus or fungus in the soil. If you would like to send a picture to us at info@sowtrue.com we would be happy to help get to the bottom of this! You can also get in touch with your local master gardener helpline. They may have some more localized advice for you.

      I hope this was helpful!

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