Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are one of the mostly widely grown food crops in the world, and for very good reasons. Do you want to know how to growing potatoes in your organic garden?
They are easy and inexpensive to grow; provide a nutritious staple in the cuisine of many cultures; come in a wide number of varieties; are incredibly versatile in the kitchen; are available year round; and can store well with significant loss of nutrition.
In addition, garden grown potatoes have superior flavor that cannot be matched by the few commercially cultivars available in the grocery store.
Potatoes in America have a circuitous history. First cultivated by the Inca Indians in Andes Mountains about 700 years ago, potatoes were “discovered” by Spanish explorers and introduced to Europe in 1537.
Often disregarded by history as a peasant food potatoes quietly spread throughout the continent, particularly England and Ireland. Reintroduced to the new world in 1621, the popularity of growing potatoes has increased with every subsequent generation. Today more than 50 billion pounds of potatoes are grown in America each year.
The name potato is in itself an exercise in confusion. The English word, potato, comes from the Spanish word for potato, patata. Thought to be a bastardization of the two words Batata (Taino for Sweet Potatoes) and Papas (Quechua for what we now know as Potatoes), the nomenclature surrounding this tuber is fraught with complexity.
NOTE: This section deals with Potatoes, sometimes called Irish Potatoes, and NOT with Sweet Potatoes (Impomoea Batatas) a member of the Morning Glory Family and also NOT Yams which are from an African shrub of the Dioscoreaceae family.
Because there are so many varieties it isn’t surprising that they can be divided into a number of categories. Despite the diversity of cultivars, potatoes by and large retain their essential qualities, so the divisions are quite simple. The three main ways of categorizing potatoes are defined by: Cooking Characteristics, Maturity at harvest, and their shape.
Defined by Cooking Characteristics
There are three categories of cooking potatoes depending on their degree of “starchy” or “waxy” qualities. Baking potatoes are on the starchy end of the scale and boiling potatoes are on the waxy side of the scale. All-purpose potatoes are somewhere in between. In the UK, these qualities are rated on a scale of 1 to 9 with nine being very starchy (floury in the British lexicon) and 1 being very waxy.
This is the standard American potato with which we are all familiar. Large oval-in-shape with a coarse, tan or brown, corky skin, these tubers have made up the bulk of supermarket fare for generations. White, Russet, Idaho, and Goldrush are all baking potatoes. As a group, they are high in starch, with a dry, mealy texture, and are good for baking, mashing and deep frying. They become soft and fluffy when baked; light and creamy when mashed, and firm and crispy when fried.
A recent introduction in mainstream American cuisine, boiling potatoes have a thin, smooth skin and an almost waxy flesh. Low in starch and relatively high in sugars and water, boiling potatoes are ideal for roasting and grilling; and for use in casseroles, potato salads, and soups. They are valued in cooking because of they hold their shape and provide a good appearance in prepared dishes.
There is no characteristic size, color, or shape for boiling potatoes. They can be round or elongated; red, blue, or yellow; and small or large. In the market you will find waxy potatoes with names like; Yellow Potato, Red Potato, Salad Potato, Red Pontiac, Red Nordland, Yellow Finnish, and Australian Crescent.
Of course, just to make things less simple, there are a few varieties that fall somewhere between the two preceding categories. These are more moist than baking potatoes and will hold together well when boiled. Like the others, they can be baked, mashed, and fried, but the results will be much different than the baking varieties. Especially well-suited to roasting and pan-frying, they are ideal for stews, soups, and au gratin dishes. Common cultivars are Yukon Gold, Peruvian Blue, Superior, and Kennebec.
Defined by Maturity
As the name implies, new potatoes are simply an immature, small potato, regardless of variety. Any potato, be it a boiling or baking potato, is called a new potato when it is harvested small and early. Think of them as baby potatoes, in the same way there are baby carrots and baby zucchini, and you will never be confused by the New Potato label.
Generally, new potatoes are planted from January to March and are ready to harvest in May to July. Before the name, New Potatoes, was developed they were called “First Earlies” (especially in the UK) to distinguish them from the later Early Potatoes (then called “Second Earlies”).
Early Potatoes (Earlies):
These varieties are the first cultivars to reach maturity in the growing season. They differ from New Potatoes in that these are harvested as fully mature potatoes. Generally, Early Potatoes are planted from February to May and are ready for harvest from July to October.
Main Crop Potatoes:
The majority of potatoes grown and sold in grocery stores are main crop potatoes. These are varieties that require a longer growing season than Early Potatoes and are usually planted and harvested later in the season. In generally, main crop potatoes are planted between April and June. They mature for harvest from September until December. Some of the long season cultivars are called “Christmas Potatoes” because they are ready to harvest in time for the yuletide holidays.
Defined by Shape
You will find potatoes in the store that are labeled as fingerlings. These are simply verities that mature into relatively small elongated finger-shaped potatoes. They don’t have any other significant differences from regular potatoes other than their shapes, although many of the fingerling varieties are boiling types.
Potatoes are somewhat unique among vegetables in that they reproduce by vegetative means rather than fruiting and seeding. Instead of planting potato seeds, you plant seed potatoes. A terrible misnomer, seed potatoes have absolutely nothing to do with seeds. There are no seed in them and they do not produce seeds.
A seed potato is instead a potato used to “seed” a new plant. You will plant the seed potato to start new potato plants in the same manner you plant seeds to start a new tomato plants. The seed potato must contain at least one “eye”, which is a sprouting bud on the potato. A larger potato may be cut into smaller parts to create several seed potatoes, each of which will grow into a new plant, as long as it has an “eye”.
NOTE: Potatoes actually do produce true fruits with seeds, but these are rare and NOT the way potatoes generally reproduce.
Potatoes are a member of the Nightshade Family, and as such have parts of the plants that are toxic to humans. For instance, all true fruits on the potato are poisonous to people. Leaves and stems are also toxic if ingested. Finally (and this is important) green parts of the tubers are also toxic. If a potato has been exposed to sunshine, it will become green in color. Do NOT eat this part. It will make you sick or worse. It’s best to discard that potato or completely cut away the greenish portions of the tuber.
|All-Blue||All-Purpose||Main Crop||Smooth, oblong, medium-size; deep-blue to purple skin; brilliant purple, moist, firm flesh with slightly grainy texture; excellent storage; resistant to scab.|
|Anya||Baking||Main Crop||Pinkish skin; fingerling; distinctive nutty flavor; good in salads.|
|Cara||Boiling||Main Crop||Pale tan with pink eyes; white flesh; soft moist waxy texture; vigorous plant; good producer|
|Charlotte||Boiling||Main Crop||Thin papery skin; moist white flesh; sweet, buttery, earthy flavor; excellent for salads, roasting & boiling|
|Desiree||All-Purpose||Main Crop||Red-skinned; yellow flesh; good for roasting, mashing & frying.|
|Estima||All-Purpose||Early||Yellow skinned; pale yellow flesh; mild tasting; good for soups, salads & baking.|
|Golden Wonder||Baking||Main Crop||Large; brown-skinned; pinkish flesh; very floury; excellent baker.|
|Kennebec||All-Purpose||Main Crop||Excellent producer, large potatoes, great for baking or frying, stores well.|
|King Edward||Baking||Main Crop||Light tan & pink skin; white flesh; one of the best mashed|
|Marfona||Boiling||Early||Round; light brown skin; pale yellow firm waxy flesh; smooth & buttery; good as microwave baker & boiled.|
|Maris Peer||Boiling||Early||Egg-shaped; cream colored skin & flesh; buttery sweet citrus flavor; holds shape well cooked; excellent in salads|
|Maris Piper||All-Purpose||Main Crop||Yellow-tan skin; white flesh; pleasant starchy flavor; very versatile in cooking; best for fries.|
|Norland||All-Purpose||Early||Red skin, white flesh, excellent when boiled, fried, or mashed, stores well|
|Purple Viking||All-Purpose||Early||Large & round; purple skin splashed with pink; moist, firm, white flesh; excellent storage; resistant to scab and leaf hoppers; compact plants|
|Red Pontiac||Boiling||Main Crop||Red skin; crisp white flesh; high yields, large round potatoes, easy to grow, stores well; adapted for heavy soils.|
|Russet||All-Purpose||Early||Red-brown netted skin; white flesh; excellent producer, excellent baking potato, large potatoes, excellent for storage.|
|Russet Norkotah||Baking||Main Crop||Large; light reddish-brown skin; shallow eyes, crisp whitish flesh; excellent baking potato; excellent producer.|
|Premiere||All-Purpose||Early||Yellow skin & flesh; firm dry floury texture; mild, clean taste; best paired by spicy food.|
|Superior||All-Purpose||Early||Smooth to lightly flaked buff skin; white flesh; good baked, boiled, or mashed. Resistant to potato scab.|
|White Rose||Baking||Early||Good producer, good for cooking, doesn’t store well.|
|Yukon Gold||All-Purpose||Early||Large; yellow skin & flesh; smooth dry texture, excellent baked, boiled, or mashed; stores well.|
For excellent information on more potato cultivars (575 of them), please explore the following link: http://potatoes.wsu.edu/varieties/vars-all.htm
Preparing your soil:
Potatoes grow best in a rich, loose well-drained, but moisture retentive, soil. They prefer a slightly acid soil with a pH of 5.8-6.5.
However, potatoes are very adaptable and will usually produce a respectable crop in most types of soil, with the exception of poorly-draining heavy clay soil. Thick clay soil will need plenty of bulk organic matter to open it up for good root development.
A month to 6 weeks before you plan to plant (2 to 3 weeks before the last expected frost date), loosen up the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Since potato plants are heavy feeders add, at the least, 3 to 4 inches of well-rotted compost and complete organic fertilizer.
The ideal fertilizer should have a proportional NPK analysis of 1-2-2 (5-10-10 is OK). Add it at a rate of 5 pounds per 100 square feet.
Alternately, add 3 to 4 inches of composted steer manure (or 1 inch of composted chicken manure), 5 to 7 pounds of bone meal per 100 square feet, and a thin layer of kelp or seaweed meal. If you have comfrey available, add a copious quantity of chopped green leaves.
NOTE: Avoid using fresh lime or manure, or too much organic material in the soil, as they tend to cause scab on the potatoes.
Till the entire mix into the soil and turn it over a few times to evenly distribute the amendments. Knock apart the dirt clods, remove stones and debris, and rake the bed smooth. Water it well to test the drainage. If the water holds at the surface for a second or two and then slowly sinks into the ground, the soil texture is perfect. If the bed doesn’t drain well you will need to add more amendments.
The most obvious soil conditioner for improving drainage is to add clean construction-grade sand. After that add more organic matter (just don’t overdo it), such as compost or mushroom compost. If your soil is still poorly-draining, you’ll need to add in a lot of commercial topsoil or even potting soil.
Selecting Seed Potatoes
Make certain that you purchase only certified seed potatoes for planting in your vegetable garden. Certification means the potatoes are free of insect or disease problems and that they have not been treated with a growth retardant. Certified seed potatoes are available at most quality nurseries and garden centers.
Potatoes are susceptible to several serious diseases. Even though the potatoes you saved from the previous year may appear healthy, they should not be used for seed potatoes. It is difficult to tell from their appearance whether they carry a bacteria or virus that may devastate your potatoes or other crops in next year’s garden.
By the same token you should not use potatoes from the supermarket for seed potatoes. In addition, most supermarket potatoes have been treated to inhibit sprouting.
Preparing the Seed Potatoes
Like fruits and seeds, a potato is a storage medium that holds an energy source to be used in starting a new plant. In the spring a few essential items are needed to trigger new growth, especially moisture, warmth, and light.
One time-tested method (with an unfortunate name) of awakening potato growth is called chitting. Chitting has been shown to have positive effects on the productivity of early potato varieties, and is recommended practice. However, you need not chit main crop potatoes since the enhancing effects are negligible for varieties planted later in the year.
Chitting is a simple procedure. You place the seed potatoes in a cool room (45°-50°F) with lots of light and help them to sprout selectively. If you have ever left a bag of potatoes in a warm room for too long, you’ll have witnessed their tendency to sprout on their own.
Left to their own devices, each tuber will produce a multitude of long, pale, and weak sprouts. The aim of chitting is to encourage your potatoes to form a few thick, and robust sprouts on each seed potato. These in turn will form strong, healthy, and productive plants.
Start chitting potatoes about 6 weeks before you plan to plant. They do best with the proper end skywards. There are two ends to each potato: the stem end (where it was attached to the plant) and the rose end (where the majority of “eyes” are clustered).
Nest the potatoes in paper in a flat or in an old egg carton with the rose end pointing upwards. Place the container in a well-lit frost-free room and let the sprouts form.
The light encourages new growth and the coolness of the room discourages rapid soft and leggy growth. The sprouts that form under these conditions should be thick, with decent color, and not growing too rapidly. A light sprinkling (not a soaking) of dilute seaweed solution every week will promote good growth and will keep them from drying out.
Ideally, you will want 3 or 4 strong shoots per tuber. The more shoots on each seed potato the smaller your crop potatoes will be. The fewer shoots, the larger the potato (within the natural variations of each cultivar). To remove unwanted sprouts carefully cut out them out with the point of a paring knife or potato peeler, taking away small section of the flesh.
You can cut larger seed potato into smaller pieces, so long as each section contains at least 3 growing buds. Let the cut surfaces callous over for a few days before you plant.
When the shoots are strong and thick and about 1 inch long, they are ready to be planted. About a week or so before your plan to plant, set your chitted potatoes where they will be exposed to some warmth(60° to 70°F) and lots of light. This will induce them to put out new growth. Potatoes can go into garden soil about 2 weeks before the last frost.
Plant in a sunny part of the garden; potatoes need full sun to grow well. The soil should be evenly moist, but not soaking wet. Almost nothing will grow in cold, wet soil; assuredly potatoes will not. Under those conditions, they are apt to rot before they grow.
Potatoes can tolerate a light frost, but be prepared to provide some frost-protection for the plants when they are young. A blanket or plastic tarp will suffice.
Traditionally, seed potatoes are planted 12 to 18 inches away from each other in rows that are 30 to 36 inches apart. Early varieties can be spaced 12 to 15 inches apart; main crop should be space at 15 to 18 inches. The closer you space the seed potatoes, the smaller your crop potatoes will be. If you want a batch of small new potatoes plant them as close together as 4 inches. If you have the space this is still a fine method of growing potatoes.
Plant each seed potato rose side up and cover with 1 to 2 inches of soil. In 2 weeks as the sprouts develop, add another inch or two of additional soil. Repeat again in another 2 weeks.
Trench or Furrow Planting
Trench Planting is very similar to row planting, with the same rules for seed and row spacing. The main difference is how you cover the seed potato. Begin with a trench about 4 to 6 inches wide and 6 to 8 inches deep. Plant the seed potatoes as you would for row planting but only cover them by filling in the trench halfway. In a couple of weeks, as the shoots are emerging, rake in another 2 inches of soil to partially fill the trench. Do this one more time in another 2 weeks and fill the trench.
Hills or Mound Planting
Growing potatoes in mounds or hills is essentially the same process as trench planting with two important distinctions. First, instead of digging a trench, simply loosen the soil where you plan to plant the seed potatoes and bury them to a depth of 4 inches. Second, the geometry is different . Rather than placing the seed potatoes in a linear furrow, you will be placing them in a circular pattern. Depending on the amount of space you have in your garden, the circle should be 24 to 36 inches in diameter, and the seed potatoes should be 4 to 6 inches apart.
As the shoots grow in height, add 2 to 3 inches of soil around them every 2 or 3 weeks, gradually building a small hill or mound. Don’t get carried away and build a mountain, a simple low mound 6 to 10 inches high is sufficient.
Mulch or Straw Planting
One of the simplest methods of growing potatoes is by using a mulching material instead of soil. Loosen the soil as you would for mound planting. Place the seed potatoes on the soil surface and cover them with 4 to 6 inches of clean straw or hay. Other mulching materials may be used so long as the chosen materials don’t form a matt like leaves or grass clippings. You may be able to use leaves and grass clippings if you mix them together or mixed them with a loose material like hay.
After the leaves and shoots grow out of the mulch, add an additional 4 to 6 inches of new clean mulch. At harvest time, just pull back the mulch to find a crop of nice clean potatoes.
Container or Bin Planting
This method is a variation of the mulching method described above. The only difference is that the mulch is contained in container or bin. This can be a wire cage, a barrel, a large plastic crate, or any similar container. If you use a container with a bottom, be sure to drill several large holes so that water will drain out easily. A waterlogged container of mulch will not produce potatoes. The seed potatoes will just rot and you will have a soggy mess on your hands.
Plants that are grown in containers will tend to dry out more rapidly when the days are hot, so additional watering will be needed. Otherwise, you’re likely to end up with misshapen tubers. Gnarly!
|Seed Spacing||Row Spacing||Plant Spacing*||Planting Depth||Soil Temperature||Sprout Time||Light Needs||Days to Harvest**|
|12-18 in.||30-36 in.||12-30 in.||3-4 in.||60°-75° F||14 Days||Full-Sun||70-120 Days|
*Plant Spacing: Spacing after Thinning OR Distance between plants (Intensive Planting)
** Days to Harvest will vary with your Climate (longer in cool climates or cool summers)
Fertilizing our patatoes
In addition to the amendments added when you prepared your garden bed, growing potatoes will benefit from additional fertilization through the growing season.
Fertilize once about two weeks after planting and every four weeks thereafter. When the foliage begins to yellow, stop adding additional fertilizer since it won’t be adding any benefit to the plants as that point.
Choose a complete organic fertilizer that is lowest in Nitrogen and higher in Phosphorus and Potassium. Look for an NPK proportional analysis of 1-2-2 or 1-3-3 (5-10-10 or 3-6-6 is OK.).
Too much Nitrogen will produce lush vegetative growth at the expense of proper flowering and root development.
Apply granular fertilizers on the surface of the soil directly adjacent to the sides of the plants and water them in thoroughly. Apply liquid fertilizers directly into the soil at the base of the plants or as a foliar feeding.
In addition, a foliar feeding of kelp, fish, or seaweed emulsion at intervals enhances the nutrients in the harvested potatoes and provides superior resistance to pest infestation. Apply a fertilizer-to-water solution at a dilution of 1-to-25 directly onto the leaves. Be sure to spray in the morning so that the foliage will be able to dry before dusk. Feed at 10, 40 and 60 days after the plant has emerged from the ground.
Water needs will vary throughout the season when growing potatoes. There are four distinct stages of growth, each of which has different needs for water.
This period runs from the time you plant seed potatoes to when the new shoots have begun to emerge from the ground. Your aim is to provide enough water provide the seed potatoes enough water for the new plants to grow, but not so much water that your newly planted tubers will rot in the ground. It’s a balancing act, which involves your attention to the garden and your climate.
Water the soil once thoroughly right after you plant. Water again only when the soil begins to dry out, as much as two weeks later. Keep the soil moist but not saturated. If you squeeze a handful of soil in your potato bed, it should barely stick together and fall apart after a few seconds. If it sticks together well or water drips from your fist, the soil is too wet. If you have naturally clayey soil, early soil preparation with well draining amendments will pay off at this stage.
If you live in an area with a wet rainy spring, it may be best to cover your newly planted potatoes with a loose covering of clear plastic mulch. This will allow the young plants to receive light but will let you limit the amount of moisture in the bed. On warm or sunny days pull back the plastic so the air beneath it and the soil doesn’t become too hot.
Once the new shoots uniformly reach a height of 6 to 8 inches, your emphasis on watering will change. You need to be less concerned with rotting seed tubers and more with providing adequate water to help fuel this growing stage. The aim of watering at this point is to provide a constant level of moisture in the soil and not letting it dry out completely. Growing potatoes require 1 to 2 inches of water per week.
Water the soil at the base of the plant thoroughly. Avoid watering the foliage since it encourages plant diseases that may devastate your potato plants. Water deeply and regularly through this stage. As plants grow their water needs will increase as well. Check the soil every 3 days to one week. Set up a regular watering schedule to maintain a continual amount of soil moisture, but avoid overwatering. The idea is to keep the soil moist, not wet.
Irregular watering will have an effect on your potatoes, creating knobby and misshapen tubers. Crop yields will be lower too. Black or hollow cankers on your harvested potatoes indicate over-watering.
The vegetative stage encompasses the critical period of growth and flowering when the plant is putting out new shoots, and developing tubers. When the flowering stage has passed, you may begin to transition to the next water stage.
This stage is a subtle and often overlooked stage of potato development. In the areas where potatoes were first cultivated the wetter “summers” were followed by a drought period of infrequent rains and cooling weather. This subtle climatic difference signs to growing potatoes to begin transferring the energy of the plant from the foliage into the tubers to prepare for the coming cold weather.
Two to three weeks after flowering has finished, begin to slowly reduce the amount of water you give to your potato plants. In the end you will want to be watering at about half of the level you did when to plant was growing quickly. This should trigger the plant to transfer nutrients into the developing tubers. The resulting potatoes are apt to be more flavorful and nutritious than if you had kept watering fully.
NOTE: Adjust your watering to meet the needs of your plants in response to the weather. For example, if it is very hot weather provide the water the plant needs first and consider inducing the drought stage later. It may be necessary to skip the drought stage altogether.
When the foliage begins to yellow and die back, you have reached the harvest stage. Suspend watering and let the foliage to continue its decline. This allows the tubers to mature and “cure”. If you are having a rainy harvest season, cover the plant with a tarp of clear plastic to let the soil dry out and to prevent any premature damage to the maturing potatoes.
Controlling weed in the early part of the season will prevent problems later in the season when your plant is producing abundant root growth and beginning to develop tubers. Also, it is the easiest time to weed since the weeds are small, their roots systems haven’t yet developed, and the soil is generally softer, more moist, and loose. Pull weeds by hand and take care to pull as much of the root system as possible. Shallow cultivation with a hoe is also very effective; take care not to damage roots, stolons, and small tubers. A gliding, winged, or scuffle-style hoe is probably the best tool in this case.
Potatoes will benefit from a light layer of mulch and it will keep weeds from returning during the growing season. Sifted compost, chopped straw, or grass clippings make excellent mulches for potatoes. Keep the layer thin, about 2 to 4 inches thick.
Your may begin to harvest potatoes 2 to 3-weeks after the plants have set flowers. If you were to dig up a plant at this time, you will only find small “baby” or “new” potatoes. Potatoes harvested “new” are small and firm, with crisp flesh, and a bright, raw flavor. With most varieties, there will be a small number of new potatoes available to harvest as early as the flowers begin to bloom.
If you wish to only harvest a few new potatoes and then allow the plant to mature for your main crop, select the new potatoes by carefully lifting the soil at the perimeter of the plant. Plan on taking no more than a dozen or so quail-egg sized potatoes from each plant. Allow the remaining potatoes to mature normally.
If you wish to harvest only small baby potatoes, continue to harvest a small amount of new potatoes every few weeks until the foliage begins to yellow and die back.
If you want late potatoes for storage, wait 2-3 weeks after the foliage yellows, withers, and dies back. Cut off all the above-ground leaves and stems and remove them to the compost heap. If the plant has been healthy and shows no signs of disease, you can proceed to dig your potatoes immediately.
CAUTION: If the foliage has been blighted precautions must be taken to prevent blight spores from spreading to your tubers, making them susceptible to premature rotting in storage. Wait for two or three weeks before you dig up your tubers. Typical weathering should kill or disperse most of the spore minimizing the probability of inventing your stored harvest.
Carefully begin digging a foot or so from the outside edges of your potato patch. Dig carefully using a flat-bladed shovel/spade or a narrow tined fork. Loosen the soil and sort out the tubers by hand. This part is really fun! Since you don’t know exactly what you’ll find there is great joy in the search and discovery.
Remove all potatoes regardless of size and lay them out on a sheet or blanket. Take care not to cut or bruise them. This will cause them to rot more quickly. If you do damage some of the tubers, set them aside for immediate use, since they will not store for more than a week or so.
If the weather is dry, allow the potatoes to lay on the soil surface, unwashed, for 2 to 3 days so they can dry. If the weather is wet, or rain is expected, move the harvest to a cool, dry area such as a basement, garage, or shed.
If the plants have not begun to die back by mid-October or winter/fall rains have solidly set in, you should go ahead and prepare to harvest. Cut of all of the foliage and allow the soil to dry out. If it is wet or rainy cover the potato patch with a tarp for a week or so to let the soil dry out. Dig up the tubers as described above.
A drying step is necessary to mature the potato skin, which will protect the potato during storage. If you have let the tubers dry on top the soil in your garden, carefully gather them in a sheet or blanket and bring them indoors where they can be prepared for storage.
If you have brought your harvest in from the damp, lay them out on a dry sheet or blanket. Let them and the soil that clings to them to dry out for at least a week. When they are dry gently brush off the loose dirt with your hand. Store them in this condition, with a thin layer of dusty soil on their skins. They will store better this way. Just remember to thoroughly wash them when you prepare them for eating.
After they have dried sort out your potatoes first by variety, and then by size. For example if you have grown two varieties such as blue fingerlings and red russets, separate all the blue fingerlings from the red russets first.
Then sort each variety by size. As you use your harvest, bear in mind that the smaller tubers should be used first, since they will not store as well as the larger potatoes.
This is because there is proportionately much more surface area (the skin) in relation to volume (the flesh), meaning that small potatoes will dry out and become punky much sooner than larger tubers. Besides small potatoes taste better when they are full of moisture and crispness.
Checking for Damage
Look over your harvest very carefully. Remove any tubers that have been cut, nicked, bruised or show signs of greening or disease. These will not store; they will rot prematurely. Set them aside for immediate use in the kitchen.
Diseased potatoes should be used with care. Scabs can usually be cut off and the undamaged portions used as you would any potato. However, if there are cankers, soft spots or smelly sections on the potato, put it in the trash.
Potatoes store best in a dark, cold and humid place. A constant temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit with the relative humidity of 85%-90% is ideal.
Storing potatoes in cooler conditions 34° to 40°F will help them store longer. This will make them taste a little sweeter since, in this temperature range, some of the starch in the potato will turn into sugar. When fried in oil, potatoes will readily brown due to the increased sugar content.
Storing potatoes in a range of 40° to 50°F lets them retain their starch content, but they won’t brown as easily when fried. This is a good range for most home gardeners since it is easier to maintain and is effective for the widest range of methods used for cooking potatoes.
Potatoes won’t last very long when they are stored at 50°F or above. They will lose their moisture quickly or begin to sprout.
Checking on Your Tubers
Hopefully you’ll have a hankering for potatoes frequently throughout the storage season, since they shouldn’t be left alone for too long. You should check on them at least once a week. Look for any tubers that appear discolored, soft, or moldy. Smell for any odd odors, especially an ammonia smell. If you spot any of these things, remove the offending tuber immediately! Remove any potatoes that have been in contact with the “bad” tuber. Take them up in the kitchen and thoroughly check them for damage. If they are OK, eat them in the next few meals.
RELATED VEGETABLES: COMPANION PLANTS
- Beans and Peas
- Sweet Peppers
- Chili Peppers
These plants don’t do well when planted adjacent to potatoes or interfere with the growth of potatoes
- Fennel Kohlrabi
- Squash Sunflowers
In a four-year crop rotation plan, Potatoes are in Group A which includes the other Nightshade Family members (Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplant) along with the Cucurbit Family (Squash, Cucumbers, and Melons). Group A precedes Group B (Alliums and Legumes) and follows Group D (Root crops and Greens).