Potatoes, patatas, this starchy pal in the vegetable garden is one of our favorites. It’s a gift that keeps on giving–or can, if you so choose–in the garden and in the kitchen. And how much fun are they to harvest? Just think about buried treasure…baskets-full.

basket of potatoes

No need to sprout these guys on the patio ahead of the last frost. Potatoes go straight in the ground. “Seed potaotes,” which are somewhat different than your grocer’s potato. Seed potatoes are grown specifically for planting which helps avoid disease giving you a strong start on the season. However, as with all vegetables in your garden, potatoes do grow all by themselves in nature. My garden, too. Only takes one kid to miss a potato and *POW* we’re sprouting potato plants! If you live where its cold, plant them in ground about 3 weeks before the last frost. In warmer regions, plant in fall. In tropical-areas like Florida, we wait until January-February. Potato plants will freeze and ruin the fun.

frost bitten potato

Trust me, you don’t want to walk out and find this mess. It’s a sad day in the garden, believe you me.

You can purchase your seed potatoes online or at your local seed store and with a few extra steps before you plant them, you’ll be in business. The potatoes shown below are from my garden, harvested this past spring. They appear a bit ragged, but the photo is to show up close the eyes, and the simple process of cutting the potato seed in half.

eyes on the potato

My son prefers to both cut his potato seed on location. Once you have seed potatoes in hand, you need to cut the larger ones into pieces.

cutting the potato seedEach piece should be about 2-3 ” in diameter and contain at least 1-2 “eyes,” also known as those tiny potato sprouts that spit out from your potato (like when it’s sat in your pantry too long). If your seed potato is small, as in golf ball size, there’s no need to cut. So long as it has eyes you’re good to go.

From this point, you can plant them, or some suggest you “heal” for a couple of days and then plant. Your choice.

When ready, dig a hole about 2-3″ deep and place your potato inside, sprout side up. For added protection, toss your pieces in agricultural sulfur. This helps keep fungal disease and potato beetles at bay. You’ll want to keep them 12″ apart.

Once your potato plants reach about a foot high, you’ll want to “hill” the soil around them. Hilling is simply the process of drawing dirt up and around the base of your potato plant, partially covering it. You’ll only need to leave a few inches of plant above the soil. This keeps your potatoes from turning green from exposure to the sun.

hilling potatoes

You see, the potato plant has an “upward growth” habit, meaning it continually grows higher and higher, forming potatoes or “tubers” along its root system. If you fail to cover the base of your plants adequately, you’ll lose a few of the top potatoes to greening. You can also use hay/straw mulch to hill your potato plants. They both work.

One of the neatest things about potato plants is this ability to continually grow upward. In fact, if you have a patio and no outdoor garden space, you can still grow potatoes. How? With the Lutovsky Box. Simplicity mixed with ingenuity makes potato growing a dream come true for anyone. Basically, you build a square wooden base, fill it with dirt, plant your seed potatoes and then watch it grow. As your plant grows, you add more walls or height to your box = potato plant grows, your box grows. After a while, you have yourself a heap of potatoes. How cool is that? Definitely worth a look.

Potatoes are heavy feeders and like their nutrients early and often. Compost is better than manure as it reduces the potential for potato scab–ick, ugly, yuck. Also, keep them well-watered throughout their growing cycle, easing back just prior to harvest.

middle school potato swimmers

To harvest, watch for your plants for signs of yellowing leaves. Depending on your variety, this process will take approx. 100 days. When the leaves on the plant die back, start digging by GENTLY loosening the soil around the base of the base with gloved hands as you look for potatoes. This is known as “swimming for potatoes” and can be quite fun–definitely a kid-friendly activity!

prepping potatoes

With harvest in hand, you’ll want to head straight to the kitchen for a savory feast. However, if you want to store your potatoes, cure them first by allowing them to sit in humid conditions at approx. 55F for two weeks, then store in a root cellar.

Problems: These pups are prone to fungus and disease, so you’ll want to stay on top of them, check often, removing infected branches as you discover them.

Good Companions: Bush beans, brassica family, corn, peas.

Bad Companions: Asparagus, cucumber, squash family, sunflower, tomato, turnip.

Health Benefits: Potatoes have a bad rap as weight-inducing starches, but did you know they’re said to help reduce blood pressure? We’ve all heard about the power of the peel, but potatoes have twice the potassium as bananas. Twice. And if you’re looking for vitamin B, in all forms, look no further. Potatoes have it. So rest assured–and comfortably–this comfort food is “worth the grow.” For more on potatoes, check this past post.

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