by: Jackye Churchill and Ken Witthaus
Although the taste and texture difference between homegrown potatoes and those purchased in the supermarkets is not as pronounced as in some other vegetables, there are still rewards in growing potatoes. The largest is the number of different varieties that can be grown. Some varieties definitely offer better texture and taste than those found in the supermarkets.
It should be pointed out that the planting methods discussed in that report differ from those described below; however, all planting methods have been successful.
Garden Size Considerations
The home gardener should have a fairly large space for growing potatoes. Potato plants should be spaced at least 12" apart and the distance between rows should be at least 18"-20". Growing potatoes in cages can reduce the space required. The cages should be placed to allow space to access each of the cages for maintenance and harvesting.
Planting Season and Seed Potatoes
Potatoes should be planted between November and May in light sandy soil using seed potatoes. The seed potatoes should be cut into 1 1/2" squares with each piece having at least two eyes or buds. Seed potatoes can usually be purchased at nurseries
Planting in Rows
The seed potatoes pieces should be planted in rows 8" deep with the pieces spaced 12" apart. If gophers are a problem, 1/2"-1" square wire mesh can be put in the ground below the pieces of seed potatoes. Dig a trench 12" wide and 8" deep. Place the wire in the bottom of the trench and bend it to cover the sides of the trench. The edges of the wire should be above ground level. The soil should be moist but not wet when planting.
Care and Maintenance of Row Potatoes
As the plants grow, mound the soil around the plants until at least 6" of the plants are covered. The soil should be kept moist until the potato plants emerge from the soil. Once they have emerged. They should be given occasional deep soakings. Use a moisture meter to determine when the soil is dry. A good way to water is to run water in the ditches between the rows until the tops of the mounds are moist.
Growing In Cages
Potatoes can be grown in wire cages to reduce the garden space. The potato plants are covered with straw as the plants grow. Cages should be about at least 2 feet in diameter and 4 or 5 feet tall. Dig a circular hole, slightly larger than the diameter of the cage and 8" deep. If gophers are a problem, 1/2"-1" square wire mesh can be put in the ground below the pieces of seed potatoes. Place the wire in the bottom of the hole and bend it to cover the sides of the hole. The edges of the wire should be above ground level. Four pieces of seed potatoes are planted in a square with 18"-20" between the pieces. Cover with soil to the ground level. The cages are then placed on the soil above the planted area. The soil should be moist but not wet when planting.
Care and Maintenance of Caged Potatoes
As the potato plants sprout and emerge, straw is placed around the plants leaving the tops of the plants exposed. As the plants grow, keep adding straw. It is important to pack the straw tightly in the cages. Watering is done from the top of the straw and allowed to moisten the soil at the bottom of the cage. Use a moisture meter to determine when the straw is dry. Be careful not to over water.
During the growing season, the potato plants will bloom, indication that potato tubers are forming. The potatoes should be harvested after the plants wilt and turn brown. This happens anytime between 90 and 120 days after planting, depending on the variety. Use appropriate tools to dig the potatoes from the rows. Remove the straw and pull the cages away to harvest the caged potatoes.