Spring is in the air. Tulips are blooming, birds are singing and many of you are likely thinking: “Isn’t it time to put in my seed potatoes?”
If you’re one of those gardeners, we have a few tips for you that will give you a good crop of tasty potatoes.
#1: Soil Preparation
Wait until your soil is friable in the spring and there is little risk of frost. The best potato yields come from light, fertile, well-draining soil. If you have the heavy clay that is common in most of Whatcom County…you’ll want to dig in some compost that will break up those heavy clumps. We usually recommend Gardner and Bloome’s Soil Building Compost in this situation.
Potatoes prefer a PH of 5.2-6.8. Fortunately for us in the NW our soil tends to be acidic. But keep in mind if you’ve just limed an area of your garden, this is not the place to plant your new potatoes.
A lot of customers ask whether they should cut up their potatoes before planting. In the case of smaller seed potatoes, this is not necessary. If you do have larger potatoes, cut them in halves or thirds. You want two to three eyes per section. The “eyes” are the sprout starts that you’ll see growing out of small dimples in the potato. Be sure to let them dry out overnight before planting.
There are many ways to plant your potatoes. You can use garbage cans, burlap bags and many other techniques. For the purpose of brevity we’ll describe the mounding method, which can be easily translated to containers.
Dig a hole a half-foot deep and one and a half feet across. Make a bit of a mound at the bottom of the hole, and plant 1-2 potatoes four to five inches apart and several inches deep. Make sure the entire potato is covered, if it’s not already raining, give them a little water to get started.
During the warm season, water your potatoes at least once a week. When they’ve sprouted and are approximately six inches above the soil, mound several more inches of soil on top. Never cover the growing tips completely. The potatoes will send out more horizontal roots and as a result, you’ll have a much bigger crop. Do this twice more, in 2-3 week increments.
The application of a liquid fertilizer, such as Daniel’s Plant Food on the foliage will increase your yield. You can start this when you do your first mounding and continue every couple weeks until the plants start to bloom.
We hope you’ve also planted some peas, because once your potatoes start to blossom, you will be able to enjoy new potatoes which are excellent with fresh garden peas. Put on some gloves and dig gently around the roots for a few new potatoes. Don’t get too carried away, or you’ll miss out later.
At the end of the summer, once the stalks die back to the ground, you can break out your potato fork and have at it! Remember: No stabbing the potatoes!
One Last Note: If you’re planning to store your potatoes through the winter, let them sit in the ground for a couple weeks after the potato vines are done. This will “toughen” their skins.