The first time I tasted homegrown potatoes, I decided I had to grow them. Fortunately, growing them is not a hard task once you know what to do.
This post is the conclusion of my experience in growing potatoes for a few years. I had my fair share of mistakes, and now I am passing everything I learned to you. Either thinking to grow potatoes or already tried and have not been successful, this post will set you on the right track.
When is the right time to plant potatoes in central Texas?
In central Texas, we grow potatoes twice a year. The first round is in winter, February through mid-March, then the second round is in summer, August through September. However, winter-planted potatoes tend to be more successful than summer ones.
Seed potatoes vs storebought potatoes
First, let’s understand what seed potato means. The word “seed’ does refer to a grain. It is, simply, a regular potato saved from the previous season for planting.
Store-bought potatoes are treated with sprout-inhibitor, which prevents them from sprouting. Planting these potatoes has a high risk of losing them to rot. However, sometimes we notice a few potatoes sprouting in the pantry, which may indicate that the chemical is losing its efficacy. Most likely, these potatoes will make it in the ground.
Personally, I used both store-bought and seed potatoes, and I haven’t seen a difference.
Unfortunately, seed potatoes are only available for winter planting. The providers are mostly in the north, so they follow their growing calendar, which may be inconvenient for Southern gardeners.
The right variety for your area
There are more than 4000 potato varieties in the world. To find the right selection for your specific region, it is best to visit a local nursery. But the most common in central Texas are:
- Kennebec white
- Irish Cobbler
- Red Pontiac
- Red La Soda
My personal favorite, for taste and performance, is the Yukon Gold. I have been growing it every year, summer and winter, and it has yet to deceive me.
Set up realistic expectations
An excellent potato harvest means that each plant would yield five to seven potatoes. Usually, that depends widely on the size and the potato variety.
Growing in ground, raised beds, or in pots
It all depends on the native soil and how much labor you are willing to put in. For a home garden, pots and raised beds are more convenient.
Many gardeners grow potatoes in pots, and they seem to be successful. However, I find pot-gardening challenging in Texas since it is difficult to maintain an even moisture level. My favorite method is using raised garden beds.
Potato growing requirments
Plant potatoes in loose, well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. If the soil is compact, growing potato tubers will have a hard time reaching their optimum size.
Potatoes also require full sun to grow evenly. Some afternoon shade won’t hurt for summer crops.
To chit or not to chit
Chitting is the process of pre-sprouting the potato spuds before planting. It is a way to get a head start on the season, but it is not necessary.
To chit potatoes, spread them in a single layer making sure they are not touching each other. Place them in a well-lit and dry area until you notice green sprouts.
Cutting the potatoes or leaving them whole
The ideal size for a seed potato is egg size. Anything smaller is not worth planting.
Cutting the potatoes is not necessary unless they are bigger than a tennis ball. If you do cut them, make sure you have at least one sprouting eye on each piece.
Curing the seed potatoes
Curing is dusting the cut-side of the potatoes with either sulfur or wood ash, then air drying it to form an outer layer to prevent rotting.
Furrows vs Holes
Planting potatoes in raised beds does not require digging furrows. A hole, three times the size of the potato deep, would work just fine. Place the potato seed in the hole and back-fill with soil.
Plant one potato per square foot, following Mel Bartholomew’s square foot gardening chart. In a 4 by 4 raised bed, you should be able to plant 16 potatoes.
Hilling the potato plants
As the potatoes start to form underground, a few may peak at the surface. Hilling is the process of adding more soil around the plant base to prevent sunlight from reaching the new potatoes.
Using the square foot spacing method spares us this chore. The dense spacing makes the foliage thick enough to shade the ground and block sunlight. Mulching is also another way to do it.
Regular watering is a necessity, especially during long dry spells. But, allowing the soil to dry out in between is also crucial to prevent rot.
Protect your potatoes from freeze
Potato plants are susceptible to cold fronts. They can hand a light frost but not for too long, and they cannot handle a freeze. Use a row cover to protect them from frost and freeze damage. Fortunately, the latter is just a setback since it kills only the foliage. The tubers are usually protected in the ground.
When and how to harvest potatoes?
Planting to harvest ranges from 80 to 120 days. The common indication that potatoes may be ready for harvest is foliage dieback. Before harvesting, though, you may tease the topsoil around the plant base. If you find any potatoes peeking out, that’s another sign for harvest. Use a garden fork to lift the tubers from the ground up before pulling the whole plant.
The only disease I came across is potato blight. It turns the leaves yellow with brown patches all over the plant. The brown patches may reach the tubers causing them to rot.
The only preventative is to use disease-free potatoes and practice crop rotation. Don’t plant potatoes in the same spot three years in arrow.
How to store fresh potatoes
The best way to store a potato harvest is by laying them in a crate or a box and separating them using shredded paper or straw. Keep them in a dark, dry, and cool place.
Potatoes in the Kitchen
There is no shortage of potato recipes, but my favorite way of eating homegrown potatoes is boiled with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. The following is a list of some of our top family recipes: