Potatoes are among the world’s oldest and most widely grown edibles, dating back in cultivation as early as 5000 B.C. in its native South America. Follow these simple tips and guidelines to savor fresh-from-the-ground potatoes at their best.
Pick your potato: Buy fresh, disease-free "seed" potatoes from the garden center. To spread harvest over a long period, grow early-, mid- and late-season varieties rather than all of one type. The best early varieties include ‘Superior,’ ‘Yukon Gold’ and the red-skinned ‘Red Norland’ and ‘Red Pontiac’. Good mid-season types are ‘Yellow Finn,’ ‘Chieftain,’ ‘Reba,’ ‘Kennebec’ and ‘Salem’.‘Elba’ and ‘Katahdin’ are great late-season varieties for keeping.
Soil: Potatoes do not require a rich, highly nutritious soil, but prefer a deep, well-drained soil improved with a half-inch layer of compost dug into the top 10 to 12 inches before planting each spring. This helps retain moisture in the soil and improves drainage. Work a light dressing of 5-10-10 or similar fertilizer into the soil at planting time.
Planting: Plant as soon as the ground can be worked in early spring. Potatoes the size of golf balls or smaller can be planted whole, while larger ones can be cut into pieces, but each must have at least three small bumps or "eyes". For weed control, insert potatoes into holes cut in a weed-control fabric such as Preen Landscape Weed Control Fabric. Bury the tubers about four to six inches deep and 12 to 15 inches apart. Keep the soil consistently damp throughout the season. Within two to three weeks, green shoots will emerge that grow into leafy plants about two feet tall. For extra weed control, apply Preen Vegetable Garden Organic Weed Preventer over the soil surface at this time. As the plants mature, starchy underground tubers grow and swell to become the part that’s harvested and eaten.
Pests and Diseases: Late blight is the most serious disease of potatoes, largely controlled by planting disease-free tubers Scab is another common disease that disfigures potato tubers. Control scab by adding sulfur to the soil to make it acidic – ideally as low as 5 to 5.5 on pH scale. The main bug problem is the Colorado potato beetle, which can be hand-picked or treated with insecticides.
Harvesting: A week or so after the foliage has died back – typically late summer into early fall –dig the fully-grown potatoes. Small, immature “new” potatoes can be dug as the potato flowers fade in early to mid-summer. The trickiest part of growing potatoes is digging them without accidentally slicing through the buried tubers. Use a digging fork, and start digging at least one to two feet out from the plants. Keep in mind that each plant may produce six or more tubers, and some of them could be as deep as 18 inches.