So you have cut the seed potatoes, prepared the well drained soil in a sunny area and it’s two weeks before the last frost. You are ready to plant. The beauty of the homestead garden is getting your hands in the dirt. So let’s get at ‘er.
In order to keep my rows straight I first prepare a plumb line: a short stick with a piece of twine the length of my rows attached to another short stick. It saves space and helps keep the rows neat for weeding between them.
With my first plumb line in place, we use a hoe to make a trench approximately 6 inches deep. In the trench, we will place a seed potato every 8 inches depending on variety (I give russets more room than fingerlings). Make sure the eye of the seed potato is up to the sky. This is a great job for kids, as you will see in my video link below.
I then dig another three trenches exactly like this approximately 8 inches apart and place my seed potato in them. I only do four rows then allow for a wider foot wide path before trenching another four rows. This allows you to be able to work your potato beds from each side.
After all your trenches have potatoes in them, you will cover them over using the hoe. After approximately three weeks or your plants are 6-8 inches high, you will add more soil around the base of the plant. This is called “hilling”. You really want to hill up the dirt over those trenches, to keep the potato tubers from being exposed to the light. This can cause a greenish tinge to your potatoes, called solanine , which can be toxic when eaten. I have had the odd green potato peek out from the dirt and haven’t died yet while eating them however it should be avoided. Keep hilling every three weeks throughout the growing season.
After the trenches are hilled, I cover them with straw or eelgrass, whichever I can get. A mulch serves a number of purposes: weed control, mulch in between hilling, and retaining water for the plants.Eel grass and sometimes seaweed was used for many years as it grows plentiful on the sea shore on our little island. Hay should not be used as a garden mulch as it will have hay seed and become too weedy. There is a method for growing potatoes using loads and loads of spent hay called the Ruth Stout method. It is worth the read.
Now we wait. At approximately 2 weeks, you should see the beginning of green foliage sticking up from the ground. If at 3 weeks you see some have not sprouted, I dig those ones up a bit. If they are a dud or rotted, I replant.
After 6 weeks, about half of the way to harvest, you should have some beautiful foliage. You can fertilize with a composted manure tea at this point or an organic fertilizer. I feed them every three weeks or so.
Watering is best done with a drip line hose so as not to water the leaves of the plant. This helps eliminate some diseases. But I use an ordinary hose, and sprinkler most times. I water sparingly but am always looking at the weather. We live in a very humid area on the coast of the Atlantic ocean, so I do not want to water too often. I wait until my soil is dry to the touch. The crucial time to water is when the potato plant is flowering.
Watch for bugs and in particular, for us in Nova Scotia, the Colorado beetles. They can disseminate your plants very quickly, and you can avoid them with row covers or strategic planting around the life cycle of the bug. I also dust all my plants with diatomaceous earth if I notice any holes beginning to form. I find that another pest which will originate with poor soil quality are wire worms. They will ruin the fruit, not so much the plant. Planting flowers near your potatoes will help draw beneficial bugs into the garden which can also help eliminate pests. It’s never a bad thing to have more flowers, and pollinators, at the very least.
Common brown scab is the disease I have the most experience with. Good crop rotation helps with this, as does not planting your potatoes near tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Good quality seed potato will establish good starts.The weather will be your next challenge. Too wet, and some varieties will develop scabs. There is absolutely nothing you can do for that except to cover with row covers to control some moisture. Good airflow between plants, and watering at ground level are great disease prevention as well.
Once flowers form, you can dip into your harvest a bit. Dig down a bit around the plant and feel for tubers. You can remove some potatoes, we call these “new potatoes” and then cover the remaining tubers up again for it to continue growing.
There is nothing better than fresh new potatoes, boiled in salted water, tossed with a bit of butter, garlic and fresh chives. It is a simple dish we could easily live on all summer. We also enjoy the leftovers the next morning fried in a bit of bacon grease, and covered with fresh eggs, scrambled and sprinkled with a bit of cheese.
There is a reason the humble potato has stood the test of time. It’s delicious and versatile. I don’t know many people who don’t love a good French fry!
Last summer, my grandson Owen and I documented the planting process on YouTube. You can find that video here: https://youtu.be/s_MuWRBwEtE
Love Jenn xx
Up Next : Part Three of Growing Potatoes : Harvest Time