Here in Indiana, it is Potato Planting time. This is our third year of a growing potato addiction. The first year it started with a walk through Rural King , and we happened to pass by the bins of seed potatoes.
“We should grow some potatoes this year…” , was quickly followed by picking through seed potatoes and filling a sack or two with small seed potatoes that could easily be put into the ground. We broke new ground for that garden, made some mounds, planted the potatoes and let them grow.
Our yield was relatively low that year, but honestly not bad for someone who had never grown potatoes ( how is it I grew even peanuts as a child, but not potatoes??). We hand pulled small ones during the late summer and our harvest took us until Dec 1. It was satisfying, the potatoes were delicious and we were hooked. Over the winter, I read more on raising potatoes and was more prepared the next spring.
When the gardening catalogs started coming in, I poured over all the potential types of potatoes. I was excited to try something other than the red, yellow and russet that were available in the grocery stores and locally. I had learned that we needed to grow the potato mounds as the plants grew to increase yield. We dug, planted and watched them sprout and grow. We fell in love with Kennebecs, before I found out they were the new darling potato in upscale restaurants. ( no surprise why, the flavor is gorgeous, they cook well and have a beautiful creamy color). We love the taste of the Purple Blush, the lightly purple skin always revealing amazingly sweet pure white potato flesh. Unfortunately, their yield is lower, so they were a cherished treat. Last year we learned lessons about overcrowding plants and flooding. However, we started eating potatoes hand picked from the garden in June and did not buy another potato until March. We had improved.
This year, I am starting to feel like an expert. I had set aside a few of our favorite potatoes (Kennebec, Red, Purple Blush, Yukon Gold and a handful of russets I got from my father in law) , so there is no expense of seed potatoes. Last year, I learned how to cut and ash the sprouting potatoes so we were not dependent on many small seed potatoes and a few potatoes yields many new potato plants. Rolling the freshly cut potatoes in ash ( I clean out the fireplace- you can also clean out a grill) helps to protect the potatoes from insects and infection both as they sit and scab over and after you plant them in the ground.
After cutting, you let the potatoes sit for at least 2 days, allowing the cut edges to “scab over” and making them less vulnerable to infection. I plant in cycles. By planting new potatoes every few weeks ( and then again some at the end of June), I stagger the harvest and protect against a random weather event that trashes a crop ( lesson learned from massive flooding of huge first crop last year). Since I am going to plant multiple times, when it is time to plant, I choose the potato starts that are most sprouted and have the smallest remaining old potato to continue nourishing them. Potatoes that have accidentally been let to oversprout have to be planted ASAP and handled very carefully.
First, we dig trenches about a shovel head deep. Yesterday I did six 10 foot rows. The rows are put in about 2 feet apart. Potato plants grow pretty big and bushy and this year I am being careful not to overcrowd. I then use a hand trowel to dig down a few inches in the bottom of the trench and place a potato start in the hole. How deep I make it and how much dirt I put over it depends on the impending weather. When we are due for several days of rain ( like now) right after planting- a good healthy time to plant, btw- I plant a little shallower, because the rain is going to erode some of the dirt off of the hills and down into the trenches, burying the potato deeper. When I plant in a dry spell, I make sure the potato has about 6 inches of dirt over it.
As the potato plants sprout up, we will gradually continue filling in the trenches and burying more and more stem of the plant. It is from these buried stems that the potatoes will sprout and grow. When the ground is level again, we start digging in between the rows, piling the dirt up around the potato in mounds, until the potatoes are eventually growing on mounds with trenches in between. This helps to increase the potential yield from each crop.
I have what look to be many extra small yellow and russet potato sprouts, and perhaps even some reds. If you are local and want one or two to experiment with growing potatoes in your garden, give me a holler and we will addict you too.