St. Patrick’s Day, the well-known ‘green holiday’ that is anxiously awaited by gardeners in Central Kansas is traditionally known as the time to begin planting many spring garden crops including potatoes, onions, peas, and leafy greens. In anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, here are some potato planting and care tips.
Potatoes are planted as the weather allows anytime from mid-March through early April in our area. They are planted in the garden as seed pieces cut from stored tubers (seed potatoes). Seed potatoes can be purchased at most garden stores and one pound of purchased potatoes should yield around 8-10 seed pieces. 5-6 lbs. of seed potatoes will provide seed pieces for a 50 foot row. Generally the seed potato should be cut into 1.5 to 2 ounce pieces. An average sized potato is usually cut into four pieces, but a large potato may yield up to 6 seeds pieces. Be sure to have at least one or two ‘eyes’ on each seed piece.
If possible, seed pieces should be stored in a warm spot (room temperature) after cutting for 2-3 days to allow the freshly cut surface to heal over. This will prevent the seed piece from rotting when it is planted.
The seed pieces are planted 10-12 inches apart in rows 2-3 feet apart. Loose, pliable, well-draining soil is the best for potatoes, so planting on a hill or raised mound/row may be necessary in heavy clay soil or during wet years. The seed piece should be planted about 2 inches deep.
Care for potatoes entails hilling or ridging (pulling up loose soil along the row) as the crop is growing since potatoes are produced along the main stem of the plant. The potato hill or ridge should eventually be 8-12 inches tall along the plants in the row. Regular and consistent watering is needed, especially when the plants are 6-12 inches tall as this is the time when many tubers are setting on the plant. Using mulches is a recommended way to help hold moisture around the plants as they grow. Mulch also keeps sunlight off the potatoes which prevents the formation of solanine which causes green skins that make potatoes bitter and inedible.
Watch out for potato beetles which can be a big problem in some years. Many gardeners find that forcefully brushing/knocking the beetles and larvae off the plants every couple days actually can prevent much of the damage. Remember that the larva are often found on the undersides of leaves. There are also insecticides containing the active ingredient spinosad or pyrethrin that are labeled for potato beetle.
Harvest and storage
Harvesting potatoes is the fun part. Smaller early potatoes may be harvested if desired as the plants are growing by gently removing some plants in the row. Otherwise harvest the potatoes later in the summer when the vines are about half dead. Harvested potatoes need to cure and this can be done by allowing them to surface-dry in a protected area out of the sunlight for a day or two to toughen up the skin. Potatoes can then be moved into a cool, dark location for storage. It is always best to use any small or injured potatoes quickly as they do not store well.
Varieties you may want to try are below: