A Bit of History About Potatoes
This perennial root vegetable is a starchy tuber of the plant Solanum tuberosum. After rice and wheat, it is the third most important food crop in the world. Worldwide, there are more than 4000 varieties of native potatoes.
Conducive Conditions For Growing Potatoes
In addition, there are over 180 wild potato species, which are too bitter to eat. However, their important biodiversity includes natural resistance to disease, pests and climatic conditions.
Potatoes like cool weather ranging from 45°F to 55°F (7°Cto 13°C). Consider growing them as a winter crop in warmer climates. The ideal pH range is 5.5 to 6.5. They thrive in well-drained, loamy soils rich in organic matter. Growing potatoes in poor soils reduces the yields. In the case that your soil is clay-like and heavy, add manure or double dig to increase drainage.
Potato varieties are numerous so make sure to carry out adequate research to determine if you want early, mid-season or late varieties. The most common for home gardens are tan and red skinned varieties.
Soil Preparation Before Planting
The soil preparation involves mixing in and spreading rooted manure or organic compost in the trenches before planting. Ideally, the trenches should be about 8 inches deep and 6 inches wide. Potatoes grow best in straight shallow trenches, 2 to 3 inches apart in prepared soil.
Preparation of the seed potatoes should be done a day or two ahead of growing potatoes. This gives the cut potato surfaces a chance to heal and form a protective layer. This improves moisture retention as well as rot resistance. Some people claim it is not worth exposing them and increasing potential diseases.
Do what works for you. Use a clean sharp knife to cut up potato pieces into smaller pieces, each having at least two “eyes”. Plant very small potatoes whole.
Place cut seeds inside the trenches with the cut side down. Note that the `eyes` should be facing up. Space them about 12 to 14 inches. As the plants continue to grow, cover them with 3 to 4 inches of soil leaving small parts exposed. Pull up the soil around them for several weeks leaving soil mounded up 4 to 5 inches above the ground.
The Right Soil Hilling
This is known as hilling. Mulch between rows after potato plants have emerged to cool the soil. The much also conserves and retains moisture and stifles weeds. Ensure to maintain the moisture. Plants need 1 to 2 inches of water per week after the sprouts appear until after they blossom. This ensures the tubers do not mishap.
The last hilling is done when the plant is about 6 inches tall, before the potatoes bloom. Prevents the tubers from gaining exposure to direct sunlight. This exposure causes developing potatoes to turn green producing a chemical known as solanine. It gives off a bitter taste and is toxic to plants bloom.
Pests and diseases affecting potatoes include:
Caused by a high soil pH. Potatoes thrive on acidic soils so test the pH of your soil before planting. It should not be higher than 5.2. Dust Seed potatoes with sulphur before you plant them. It creates a kind of acidic shield around the piece to protect it from developing scab. Another disease is early or late blight.
Colorado Potato Beetle.
Usually an above ground pest. It is the most serious potato pest. This beetle is a yellow insect with alternating black and white stripes down its back. Females can lay up to 500 eggs over a four-week period. It is a dangerous insect as it is notorious for development of resistance over short period. Other pests include wireworms, aphids, leafhoppers as well as flea beetles.
New potatoes are potatoes that are harvested purposefully early because of their small size and tender skin. They are harvested 2 to 3 weeks after the plant stops flowering. These cannot be cured and must be consumed as soon as possible as their durability is not very long.
For the mature potatoes, 2 to 3 weeks after the plant foliage has died back, and the vines are completely dry start harvesting. Check for maturity of the potatoes. If the skins are thin and rub off easy, they are still too new. Leave them in the ground for some more days. Cut away the foliage and wait until the potatoes sins develop a thick enough skin.
On a dry day, dig up potatoes gently, careful not to puncture tubers. Damaged tubers will rot. Should the soil be wet, allow them to dry. Store potatoes in a cool dark place with proper ventilation. Do not wash the potatoes. Unless you plan them for immediate use as it shortens their storage life. You can learn more about growing potatoes from Gardeners World.