Potato plant | Lance Ellis, EastIdahoNews.com
Living in the potato state and being surrounded by fields of potatoes, most people take this humble tuber for granted. Adding to their commonness, they are also inexpensive in the grocery store and ultimately, the good old spud just isn’t as respected as it should be — especially when it comes to growing them in the home garden. Growing potatoes in the home garden isn’t hard and gives gardeners a chance to try varieties they might not find in the grocery store.
Planting certified seed potatoes from garden centers or stores is essential. Using certified seed potatoes lowers the risk of plant diseases, which if left uncontrolled, can be sources of disease for the commercial potato industry. These plant diseases are not a danger to humans, but they can lead to poor quality potatoes, lower yields, and be a disease source. Fresh potatoes in the produce section at the grocery store are not certified seed potatoes, and should not be planted in home gardens. They may have been treated with a sprout inhibitor to stop them from growing and may harbor plant diseases.
Potatoes are considered a cool-season crop since they grow best under daytime temperatures of 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures of 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit. In eastern Idaho, they can be planted in a home garden as early as two to four weeks before the last average frost date. To ensure optimal emergence and growth, plant potatoes when soil temperatures are consistently 50 degrees Fahrenheit or higher during the day. For better results, the seed potato should be at least the size of a Roma tomato. Tubers larger than that can be cut in half, but need to be at least two ounces or larger, and they should have at least one ‘eye’ (preferably two) which will sprout to produce a new plant. If the soil is cold and wet, allow the cut pieces to heal for a few days before planting. Otherwise, they could rot in the ground.
A row of potato plants | Lance Ellis, EastIdahoNews.com
An easy approach to planting is to select an area of the garden where potatoes or tomatoes have not been grown in two years. You’ll about eight to 10 pounds of seed potatoes for every 100 feet of row. Dig a trench that is 5-6 inches deep, place whole potatoes or cut potatoes, sprout side up, every 10-12 inches in rows that are 24 to 36 inches apart, and cover with soil. Be sure the planting area is moist but well-drained, and not overly wet or cold to promote the best chance of producing healthy plants. Depending on soil temperatures, plants should emerge within two to four weeks. At planting time, or within about four to six weeks of planting, consider hilling soil around the plant to prevent the developing tubers from being pushed out of the soil and exposed to light. Portions of tubers exposed to light will turn green and contain bitter compounds, which is why green areas should be cut out of tubers before eating.
There are many varieties to choose from and choose the ones you want to grow dependent upon what you will use it for in the end. Some varieties mature earlier than others, some store longer, some are better for boiling, steaming, baking or frying. With a little research, you can find varieties that fit what you are trying to achieve.
Part of the information in this article comes from Dr. Kasia Duellman, University of Idaho Extension. For further gardening questions, contact Lance Ellis at (208) 624-3102.