Here in Central Florida, it’s time to plant the potatoes. Potatoes prefer cooler conditions, but are susceptible to frost and freezing. While neither happens often if Florida, they do happen, and we will have to cover our plants accordingly to protect them. But I digress. First things first, we need to plant them or there won’t be anything to protect!
As an organic gardener, I rotate my crops from bed to bed to stay ahead of the bugs and maintain healthy soil. We follow beans with potatoes, so we’re using our old Lima bean row this year for our new potatoes. We’re growing red potatoes, though many varieties exist. To keep things straight, I use an excel spreadsheet, though pencil and paper work fine. Whichever method you choose, you’ll be glad you did. It helps to keep your beds straight from season to season.
Before you begin, keep in mind that you will be “hilling” your beds as the plants grow. This means that as your potato plants begin to grow leaves and attain some height, you’re going to want to draw or “pull” in more dirt around the base of the plants. Hay mulch can also be used to serve this purpose. The idea here is to ensure good coverage of the developing “tubers” or new potatoes as they grow. Potatoes have an “upward” growth habit, whereby they will grow upward as the root system expands. If they near the soil’s surface and become exposed to sunlight, they will turn green, and green potatoes are NO good. (They’ll make you sick if you eat them.) You can also start with a trench when planting potatoes. Makes it easier to hill in the future, but with my garden I simply plant them “low” and hill as they grow.
We’re planting ours next to our peas because the two are great companions in the garden. However, tomatoes are not, so keep them apart. Tomatoes and potatoes are prone to early and late blight and can infect one another. Other good companions for potatoes include: bush bean, members of the cabbage family, carrot, celery, corn, dead nettle, flax, horseradish, marigold, petunia, onion and marigold. Other bad companions include: asparagus, cucumber, kohlrabi, pumpkin, rutabaga, squash family, sunflower, turnip and fennel.
After we till our soil to improve aeration, we amend with compost and composted cow manure (they love the stuff). Next, we form holes for our potato seed—about 2 inches deep.
Now it’s time for cutting our potato seed. Inspect each potato seed and look for the eyes. Eyes are the sprout nubs covering your potato. The idea here is to cut your potato seeds in half or even quarters, depending on the size of the potato and the number of “eyes.” Each cut piece should have at least one eye, as this is where the future sprout erupts!
When planting, I like to put the cut potato piece “eye-side-up”—don’t want to make it too hard for my babies!—though I’ve learned that potatoes are prolific growers and will thrive in your compost pile without a second thought from you, without any regard to their “eye” orientation.
But just in case—keep it easy and plant “eye-side-up.” Cover your potatoes with a mix of dirt and all-purpose organic fertilizer and water well.
Potatoes are heavy feeders so feed them every so often with a nice mix of fish emulsion, or a dose of good old-fashioned worm poop. Potatoes are “pigs” when it comes to consuming nutrients which is why you want that cow manure and fertilizer mixed in at time of planting.
Another consideration is to stagger your planting. “Staggering” your planting dates means to plant only a portion of your potato seeds at one time, say a third of the row, then another third in two weeks, followed by the last third two weeks later. This ensures a constant supply of fresh potatoes. An important consideration in my home, because our “fruit cellar” (aka garden garage) is not sufficient to store potatoes long-term. Too warm. Staggering also prevents whining from the family.
“Potatoes for dinner? Again?”
Apparently they don’t want potatoes for dinner EVERY night. Hmph.
In about 2 – 4 months after planting and continuous hilling, you’ll reap a lovely bounty of fresh potatoes. And trust me, there is a difference between fresh-from-the-garden-potatoes and store-bought. They taste sweet pie and smooth as butter. We like to roast ours with garlic and rosemary.
And remember, no matter how you prepare your potatoes, they taste better when you grow them yourself. But do remember these babies are not frost-tolerant and must be covered should the air turn cold. You can use a frost blanket or a household sheet, but either way, make sure you cover them from in the event of frost or you’ll wake up to this ugly site.
Brrrrr. I get the chills just looking at those poor suffering beauties! So do be cautious and happy gardening!