Potatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. When grown intensively, potatoes can produce more calories per square foot than any other vegetable. Potatoes are not usually grown from seeds, but can still be grown each from potatoes that were harvested in previous crop.
Plant potatoes as early as possible; ideally two- to-three weeks before the average last spring frost. It is possible for seed potatoes to rot if they are planted too early and in cold, wet soil. They will also be damaged if the young shoots are exposed to heavy frost so it best to wait until the soil has warmed somewhat before planting. Potatoes planted two-to-three weeks before the frost date will produce faster than potatoes planted four-to-six weeks before the final frost date. Another good way to determine when to plant potatoes is to watch for the first dandelion blooms after the snow has melted and plant them at that time.
Cut the large seed potatoes into pieces to increase the number that can be planted which leads to higher yields. Cut them with a sharp knife but be sure to leave at least two “eyes” on each piece. Leave the cut pieces in a cool, humid location overnight to harden the cuts and prevent spoilage before the potatoes begin to grow.
If you discover damage from wireworms, maggots or other pests, avoid cutting the potatoes and plant them whole. If you have a chance to hand pick your own seed potatoes, choose smaller potatoes so there are more to available to plant.
If they are being planted in deep, loamy soil, plant them about 4 inches deep. If the soil is not ideal there are a number of ways to prepare it and improve yield. Incorporate organic material into the soil to produce the better yields. It is best to add the compost or other organic material in the fall which gives the soil time to balance itself. Avoid using fresh manure because it can cause scab on the potatoes and use only aged manure. Avoid adding too much nitrogen as this will delay potato production and will create a lot of leaves but very few potatoes.
Dig a shallow trench about 6-8 inches deep, and then place the potatoes in the trench about 10-12 inches apart. Space the rows about 36 inches apart or wider if you intend to hill them. Cover the potato plants with about 3-4 inches of soil leaving some depth to the trench.
When the potato plants are about 8 inches high, bring the soil up around the plants on both sides. When cultivating around the plants, be careful not to disturb the plant as it can damage the roots. Hilling brings loose soil up around the plant so that they are able to form potatoes in cool loose soil. With the first hilling, bring them up only to the point that levels the trench. Wait two-to-three weeks and hill them again bringing the hill up to 4 inches above the original ground level. If the soil is hard, apply deep well-rotted mulch, mixed with compost to the soil instead of bringing the soil up around the plants.
After the second hilling, add mulch of straw or well-rotted (at least 2 years old) sawdust. The mulch allows the soil to breath and keeps the soil cooler and helps it retain moisture. It also helps prevent potato beetle infestations because it provides a barrier and creates a living space for insects that eat beetle larvae.
New potatoes can be harvested a few weeks after the plants begin flowering. Dig into the loose soil and gently
pull out these thin-skinned potatoes. Gently remove them to avoid harming the potato plant and further potato development. Begin harvesting the main crop after their vines die back and they lose most of their color. This may be caused by light frost or simply because they have reached maturity. Potatoes can be left in the ground for several frosts but should be harvested before the ground freezes to prevent damage to the potatoes.
To control soil borne diseases and pests, plant mustard greens in the fall where potatoes were grown that spring. Enjoy the greens from these plants in the late fall and winter and/or early spring. This is an inexpensive alternative to expensive fumigants used by farmers who grow potatoes. If possible avoid planting potatoes, tomatoes, or peppers in the same ground the following year as they are closely related plants.