One of the most versatile vegetable, potatoes can be boiled, fried, mashed, grilled, or baked, and it all tastes delicious. Although they are available in the market round the year, using your own home-grown ones have a different charm altogether. This article attempts to answer all queries about growing potatoes, starting from the right time to plant them and all the way to harvesting them.
The potato is a starchy, tuberous crop which belongs to the Solanaceae family, commonly referred to as a nightshade family. The world's fourth largest food and staple crop, potatoes are an absolute favorite among children and adults alike. Potatoes are grown from tubers or seed potatoes as they are popularly known. There are dozens of different varieties of this vegetable; early, second early, and maincrop potatoes being just some of them. So, choose the one you are looking for as per your needs. Let me get down to answering a few basic questions about planting potatoes before getting into the details.
- Right Time to Plant: Potatoes should be planted around mid-March or early April, when the soil temperature is closing to a 45ºF.
- Best Place for Plantation: These crops should be planted in a location that receives full sunlight and in a loose, well-drained, and moisture-retentive soil.
- Depth of Plantation: Depending upon the size of the seed potato, plant them in loose soil at a depth of two to five inches.
- Distance Between Two Plants: The spacing completely depends upon the variety. Early potatoes should be planted 30 cm apart in rows spaced at 45-60 cm, and second earlies and maincrops should be spaced at 38 cm apart in rows spaced apart at 75-80 cm.
Method of Planting
Now, let's get down to the best way to plant potatoes, soil preparation, and chitting. Potato seeds are not tiny, but they are special seeds that are small-sized tubers. Four to six weeks before planting the seeds, one needs to sprout them. Place the seeds in trays or boxes in a light and airy location with plenty of light, either in late January or early February. Each seed has a number of eyes, and you should keep that side facing upwards. The seeds will start to sprout and will be ready for plantation when the sprouts grow about a centimeter or two. This entire process of sprouting seed potatoes is known as chitting. This helps the tubers to establish and grow faster, as un-sprouted seeds take longer to sprout in soil and at times produce a smaller crop.
Choose a location where potatoes have not been grown for the last two years. To get a good crop, give the location a three year rotation for growing potatoes. Till the soil deep and add in just a little peat moss. Fertilizing is not necessary at this stage. Experts recommend a location that has been manured the previous winter. However, the addition of some compost or a little peat moss is beneficial. The use of fresh manure is a strict no-no, as it tends to cause scab on the potatoes. Ready the rows and trenches as per the variety of the seed. Handling chitted seeds carefully, gently press or set them into the trench with the shoots pointing upwards and cover them very lightly with soil. As the sprout grow bigger, keep mounting the soil higher. This will give the young plant protection from frost and weeds.
Watering potato plants as they begin to grow is very important to ensure the health of the tubers. Keep the soil well watered throughout the summer, especially during the flowering period. The flowers borne are white, pink, red, or purplish blue in color with yellow stamens. The seed variety sometimes also determines the color of the flowers, such as white flowers generally have white potato skins, while colored flowers tend to have a more pinkish or brownish skin. Preferably water the plant early in the day. When foliage dies back naturally, cease watering for a week or so to allow the tubers to mature.
Harvest potatoes 2-3 weeks after the plants have finished flowering. Early potatoes can be lifted from June until September, even when the foliage is still green, whereas second earlies and maincrop varieties can be lifted in September. However, before lifting the crop, cut back the foliage to ground to give the potato skins sufficient time to toughen up.
Don't restrict yourself just to the ground, grow potatoes in stacks of straw, in plastic bags, stacks of tires, or even hydroponically.