Saturday, October 10, 2015

Potatoes: Tasty Tubers

Potatoes are one of the most rewarding crops to grow. While the tops grow, flower, and then die back tasty tubers are forming underground.  Digging in the cool rich soil pulling out tasty potatoes grown organically is a thrill!  With skin colors from purple, blue,  red, and brown potatoes are anything but boring!  Some of the harvest will store well into the winter with very little preparation.  And some will be enjoyed on the day of harvest because nothing beats a fresh baked potato. 

Potatoes  are a family favorite with endless cooking options:  baked, boiled, roasted, shredded, steamed or fried.  They can serve as a taste side dish,in a salad, or even as the main event at a meal.

They are a great storage crop and can be processed in a pressure canner or dehydrated.  With so many options why not give the spectacular spud a try?

Purple Viking Potatoes

Are Potatoes Healthy?

Potatoes are actually nutritional gold mines.  They contain  vitamin C, potassium, iron and are a good source of fiber. They also contain B vitamins, vitamin A, minerals like zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium, and antioxidants. In fact, one medium potato with its skin can provide half of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C. In a survival situation, this would definitely be an important crop because it is calorie and nutrient dense characteristics.


Why Brother Growing Potatoes?

Why not just purchase potatoes from the store?  After all they are inexpensive, so why go to the effort to grow them?  There is a difference between fresh potatoes and store potatoes.  Texture and taste are so much better. Also there are so many varieties and colors and shapes of potatoes each suited to  a particular use and cooking method. Flavor ranges from nutty to sweet and from mild to intense.  Each variety has its own texture.  The texture determines what dishes each variety is best suited for.  Once you start growing your own spuds you will always find a space for them in the garden.

Besides the endless options of heirloom varieties,growing your own potatoes means you are getting an organic pesticide free potato.  Commercial potatoes are heavily sprayed with chemical fungicides and pesticides.
Purple Viking

Picking a Potato

Potatoes are planted from whole or partial seed tubers.  Use only certified seed quality tubers not grocery store potatoes.  This prevents the risk of certain diseases.

Potatoes can be characterized by maturity date, any where from 65-180 days, and skin type.  There are early, mid season, and late varieties.  I like to plant at least one variety of the early, mid, and late season potatoes. This extends the potato season allowing us to enjoy these yummy spuds from late summer through fall.  Skin types include russets, smooth, and colored.  Some varieties exhibit some resistance to potato disease so that is another factor to look at.  Each variety allows a different yield from light to heavy yields. Storage length is also another consideration with the late season varieties being the best for storing.

Weeding and prepping the field

 Planting Potatoes

Start with egg sized potatoes.  Larger potatoes can be cut and left out overnight to cure at room temperature.  Potatoes can be planted 4-6 weeks before the last frost date as long as the soil can be worked.  They like a sandy soil with lots of organic matter. 

 I start with a trench 1-1 1/2  feet deep. Leave the removed soil on the side of the trench. Before planting, I add dry organic fertilizer.  I  plant the seed potatoes 8 inches apart.  Cover the potatoes with only 2 inches of dirt.  

When the potatoes emerge and have about 6 inches of top growth cover them with another 2-4 inches of soil.  Continue to do this until the plants are level with the surrounding ground.  Then mound up one more time around the potatoes so they are actually  growing on a hill.  This is important because potatoes form between the seed potato and the ground level.  Mounding ensures an abundant crop.

Care of Potatoes

Other than the dry organic fertilizer you put in the trench potatoes do not need any other fertilizer.  You can cover emerging potatoes with compost once while mounding them and again when you hill them. Straw can also be used to mulch potatoes just be sure it is seed free. 

Even moisture is important to prevent mishapen potatoes.


There are a few pest to watch for in your potato crop.  As with all your crops, a stroll through the potato plot looking for signs of insect damage will result in early detection and possibly save your crop.  

 Colorado Potato Beetle? - Leptinotarsa decemlineata       Colorado Potato Beetle Larva   Colorado Potato Beetle eggs on Nightshade leaf
 Colorado Potato Beetle

This beetle reside in most states despite the name Colorado potato beetle.  Check the underside of leaves, looking for masses of orange eggs.  Destroy them!  The adult beetle is yellow with black stripes.  The larvae is dark red or orange with black spots.  Both adults and larvae feed on the potato foliage.  Pick them off or spray with Neem and Spinosad.

Flea Beetle

Flea beetles are small pesky black beetles.  They chew small holes in plant leaves damaging young plants.  Rotating your crops and maintaining high organic matter in the soil will help.


Problems with disease vary from year to year.  The determining factor will be the weather. Moisture and temperature and the right host make disease pathogens active.  

There are some preventative measures you can take.  First of all it is very important to rotate where you plant potatoes.  Potatoes and tomatoes are in the same family so keep that in mind when planning your crop rotation. Second always use certified disease free potato seed.  And finally use a regular organic spray routine throughout the season.

I have found the following spray routine effective for both pests and disease:

  • Neem Oil
  • Spinosad
  • Kaolin Clay

I put all three sprays in the same sprayer and apply every two weeks.  I also add kelp and fish emulsion.


The fungus that cause common scab lives in the soil for many years.  It is inactive if the pH of the soil is below 5.4.  You can take a soil test to determine pH.  Look for scab resistant varieties.

Late Blight

Late blight was responsible for the Irish potato famine.  It is caused by the fungs Phytophthora infestans.  This disease loves cool, wet weather and spreads as the weather warms up.  Look for water soaked areas that turn brown and black as the leaf dies.  Both potatoes and leaves can be affected.  Be sure to plant certified seed and follow a regular spray routine.  If weather conditions are right add Serenade to the spry routine.

  Mosaic Virus

  MosaicVirus is spread by aphids.  It causes leaves to curl and they look two toned.  This virus occurs throughout the United States.  Kennebec and Katahdin, two of my favorite storage varieties, have some resistance to this virus.

Let everyone help look for potatoes!

Holding the lids open

Harvesting Potatoes

You can harvest new potatoes before the main harvest.  This robbing can be done 50-60 days after planting.  A good time to rob for new potatoes is right before flowering.  Just gently reach into the hill and remove the new potatoes. Be very gentle.

Potatoes for storage are dug after the plant flowers and the vines begin to die.  They must be dug before the ground freezes.  

To check for maturity dig up a plant and rub the skin.  The skins should not rub off. If they do and weather permits leave them in the ground a couple more weeks. Harvest in the morning on a dry day.  Dig your potato fork to the side of the plants and gently lift out the spuds.  Digging around will result in finding more potatoes.  It's like a treasure hunt.

Brush off the dirt but do not wash until you are ready to use them.  I cure them in a cool garage on a rack which allows circulation and continues to cure the skins. Curing allows skins to harden and cuts and bruises to heal.

Used to store potatoes in the house.

Storage rack to cure potatoes in my garage.

Storing Potatoes

Potatoes are stored best in cool, dark, and humid conditions.  The ideal temperature is 40 degrees with 80-90% humidity.  Lower humidity causes potatoes to shrivel and light causes them to sprout.  In the west it is difficult to maintain high humidity, but do the best you can to maintain good storage conditions.  Not all varieties store well so use them up first and save those varieties intended for long term storage for later.

Varieties I like:.

Early Season: 

Purple Viking: early, purple skin, white flesh my favorite
Warba- early: golden skin, white flesh new variety for this year
Red Norland:  Red skin, white flesh resistant to scab
Moutain Rose:  Red skin and flesh

Mid Season: 

Katahdin:  Reliable, white flesh, good storage, a must in my garden
Kennebec:  Large, reliable, large yields, long storage, excellent
Chieftain:  Red skinned, white flesh, scab and blight resistant with high yields
Dark Red Norland:  Dark red, white flesh, disease resistant, high yields
Peter Wilcox:  Purple skin, yellow flesh, scab resistant, stores well

Late Season:

Carola:  yellow flesh, excellent quality, drought, scab, and blight resistant, high yields
All Blue:  Large blue skin and flesh, high yields

Be sure to place online potato orders early or you will not have very many choices available.  The sell fast.  The majority of my seed potatoes are ordered from Irish Eyes

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