Growing Potatoes 201

This post is for those of you comfortable with growing potatoes. I went to a local farmer’s workshop over the weekend discussing some of the finer points of potato growing and potato dying. I wanted to share some of the points that I took away.

Check out some of my other potato posts for a quick Potatoes 101 refresher.

Potatoes hate wet feet. In Michigan, (where some of the local farmers get their seed potatoes) they grow them in really sandy soil. Make sure you don’t have a hard pan of clay or a container with a bottom that doesn’t drain. The potatoes won’t form right, and can even rot in the ground.

Potatoes are just looking for a way to die. There are lots of fungal diseases and viruses that are fatal to potatoes. There’s a WHOLE FAMINE named after potatoes, don’t ever forget that. Buy certified disease free spuds to plant in the spring. The list of pests is long too. Potato Beetles like to dine on nightshades, so they are really good at shrugging off insecticides.  You have to nail them with some Neem when they are still in their larval stage.

Limit fungal pressures by reducing organic matter in soil. This is the only time I’ll ever tell you to not add as much organic as you can. The thought is that too much decomposing matter encourages some of the fungal pressures that potatoes already have. I’ve heard this is true for Sweets too, they don’t care for too much organic matter. Light sandy soil, or loamy.

Too much Nitrogen will mean too many leaves. Watch your amendment ratios, and don’t let the N get too high, or the potatoes will put on big beautiful bushy tops and minimal spuds.

Water 1″  per week during and after blooming. When they are blooming, the spuds are forming, so even steady watering is best. Mulch heavily with some straw to help keep moisture levels steady. In order to not aggravate the fungal problems, make sure that there is plenty of space between the rows of potatoes for plenty of air flow. potatoes

Pay attention to the Physiological Age of your potato seed. The scale is New to Old, a newer seed will have eyes that are barely starting to sprout. An older seed will be shriveled, with long sprouts. Younger seeds emerge more slowly, produce fewer, larger tubers. Older seeds emerge more quickly but produce more smaller potatoes.

Anybody got any potato growing gems to share? Shout out in the comments!

– Calamity Jane

7 comments… add one
  • Valleydeere January 28, 2014, 9:46 pm

    A major reason for the Irish potato famine was because of the massive monoculture of round whites, it is estimated that 80% of potatoes in Ireland at the time were the same variety.
    When you grow potatoes remember to move them from one spot to another every year and if you get a fungus either burn the plants or put them in the trash, DO NOT COMPOST plants with blight, this goes for tomatoes too.
    Another reason to limit organic matter (manure and shavings) is that it leads to scabs on the potatoes. Sandy soil makes for smooth, nice looking potatoes.
    Also, remember to hill soil around growing plants to prevent sunburn.
    Just a few things I learned from working on a couple potato farms in Aroostook County, one being my brother in law’s.

  • Steve suffering in NJ January 28, 2014, 10:56 pm

    Funny this comes up. Want to start trying my hand at potatoes this year. When you say “sandy” soil, how much sand vs soil are we talking about here?

    Gardens in the small side, thinking about growing in 3o gallon garbage can cut in half or so. How much sand are you talking about? How many seeds would you put in something this size?

    Appreciate it

    • Calamity Jane January 29, 2014, 8:10 pm

      Ok, if your 30 gallon garbage can is cut in half, I would think 3 seeds would be your limit. Maybe 4 if they will be harvested on the smaller side.

      • Anonymous February 1, 2014, 3:38 pm

        Thanks for the info

  • Road Warrior January 29, 2014, 8:20 am

    I tried growing a couple potatoes last year from slips someone gave me…”epic fail” as my boy would say. The bush grew slightly, but when it came time to harvest, well, there wasn’t much there to brag about. Pesky things, those potatoes. Gonna have to give it a whirl again this year.

  • MaddMac January 30, 2014, 10:44 am

    I’ve had so-so luck with tators. Most times it hasn’t been worth the time and space required. I’ve tried growing in hills, straw and saw dust. Nothing is any better than the other. I’ll keep trying.

  • gardener January 30, 2014, 9:02 pm

    I live in a major potato growing area and have heard some large potato farmers complain about home gardeners growing a few potatoes and letting them get full of pests and diseases, which threatens the neighboring growers. I’m not sure how much truth there is to this, but it comes up.


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