Growing Organic Potatoes

Growing potatoes in the home garden is easy and fun. Home grown potatoes taste better than the ones you can buy at the grocery store. You know your potatoes are free of harmful chemicals, and you can store them for several months.

Get an early start – Potatoes are cool weather crop and by planting potatoes early you’ll avoid the intense heat and pests that can spoil the harvest. I start looking for seed potatoes at the garden center around Valentine’s Day. I like to pick my own smaller sized seed potatoes for planting. If you wait too long the smaller ones are gone and you’re stuck with large ones that you have to cut into pieces. The large potatoes are fine, cut them 1 or 2 days before planting, and leave 1 or 2 eyes or buds per piece. I store my seed potatoes in flat trays in a bright room indoors, with temperatures of between 60-70 degrees for 1 to 2 weeks until I’m ready to plant.

Potatoes are not roots but specialized underground storage stems called “tubers.”

Tubers form best at soil temperatures between 60° and 70°F. The tubers fail to form when the soil temperature reaches 80°F. Potatoes withstand light frosts and can be grown throughout most of the country.

Use only certified seed potatoes
Yukon Gold potatoes are my favorite. I like the taste and and yellow-fleshed color. I’ve had good success growing this tasty mid to late season variety in my area of the Midwestern United States.

Norland Red an early red potatoes that does well in my area. You get a very early harvest. I usually began harvesting them as soon as they begin to develop. I plant Norland Red’s closer together for this reason. They will develop large potatoes but I tend to harvest and eat them early and leave the Yukon Gold potatoes to develop into large tasty tubers.

Potatoes grow best in full sun. They like loose well-drained moist soil with the pH of 5.8-6.5. Potatoes grown in soils with a higher pH seem prone to a disease called ‘scab’, which produces rough spots on the potato. You will get a crop of small potatoes in less than ideal soil and sun.

Plant Potatoes as soon as the ground can be worked in the early spring, and soil temperature has reached 45°F. Do not dig if your soil is soggy or wet. You risk caking the soil, and your seed potatoes will rot and die before they ever get started. Potatoes sprout when conditions are correct. I try to get my soil ready to plant potatoes in late fall by tilling in shredded leaves and compost. I’ll leave a shallow trench. This will help give me the jump on spring planting.

Potatoes can tolerate a light frost, but you should provide some frost-protection for the plants when they are young. This can be a loose covering of straw, or a temporary plastic tent. Be sure to uncover or ventilate when temps warm up.

Rotate crops
Avoid pests and disease, do not grow potatoes in the same area. Skip 2 full years before planting in the same spot again. Don’t plant your potatoes where tomatoes or eggplant were grown the year before. These are in the family as potatoes and can attract similar pests and problems.

Dig a shallow trench about 6 inches deep. Plant the seed potatoes with the eyes up and cut side down, 10 to 12 inches apart. Cover with 2 inches of soil. Space rows 24 to 36 inches apart. Begin to Hill dirt around the plant when it reaches 6 inches tall. Repeat the process when the plant reaches 6- 12 inches tall again. This keeps the soil around the developing tubers loose and not exposed to sunlight that turns them green and toxic. You can stop adding dirt when the plant begins to flower.

I’ve also had good success growing potatoes in shredded leaves and straw. They’re easy to plant and harvest. Just place the seed potatoes on the ground and cover with a few inches of shredded leaves or straw. As the plant grows, add more mulch. When it’s harvest time just pull back the mulch and pick.

Keep potato plants moist but not soggy or wet. Water as needed
Apply organic fertilizer in mid-and late season

I never use any pesticides or other chemicals chemicals on my potatoes and I’ve always had an ample harvest.

Harvest your potatoes when the vines die. Be careful when digging not to cut or damage the tubers that may extend out several inches from the base of the plant. I use a solid pitchfork to minimize damage

Store in a cool dark place. The ideal storage temperature is 45 to 50°. Don’t store potatoes in the refrigerator, and don’t store potatoes with onions because they give off a gas that will spoil them both.