Tips & Techniques for Growing Potatoes                                                                                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                                                                                     
 
Growing Red Potatoes 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Colorado Potato Beetle
 
Colorado Potato Beetle Eggs
 
Colorado Potato Beetle Larvae
 
Varieties of Potatoes
There are two basic types of potatoes, i.e. Irish and sweet potatoes.  The Irish potato is not originally from Ireland but got its name from the 1845 potato famine.   There are several colors and varieties of potatoes available.  The most common are the white and red potatoes.  The flesh of both is white. However, there are potatoes with yellow and blue flesh.  In addition, there are several specialty varieties of smaller potatoes with unusual flavors.  Even though both sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes grow under the ground attached to the roots, their plants are different in appearance.  Irish potato plants are upright and bushy while sweet potatoes plants are vines.   There are several varieties of sweet potatoes.  Some produce tubers that are darker in color and sweeter tasting than others.
  
Preparing the Soil
There are several methods of growing potatoes.  I prefer planting them in hills within straight rows the length of the garden.  They are easy to maintain once planted.  This method requires you to till the garden and mark off rows.  A string with a stick tied to each end can be used for creating straight rows.  Use the sticks to measure the location of the next row, making the middles slightly wider than your tiller.  Using a hoe, make a straight shallow trench beneath the string.  Once the rows have been marked off, you will want to dig holes about one foot apart along the trench and mix in compost or manure to make hills.  You can make your own compost with left over scraps from your prior year's garden using a compost bin.  You may also include about a table spoon full of regular commercial fertilizer, e.g. 12-12-12 garden fertilizer. It is acceptable to plant potatoes near onions but not next to squash, cucumbers or tomatoes.  Sandy soil is best for growing potatoes.
 
Planting Potatoes
It is best to plant Irish potatoes early using seed potatoes, i.e. untreated potatoes.  Often, the potatoes bought in stores to eat have been treated to retard sprouting.  As a result, they will not come up as well as seed potatoes.  Cut the potatoes into pieces with two or three eyes on each piece.   Allow the pieces to cure which will help prevent them from rotting in the ground.   Plant two pieces per hill covering them with about one or two inches of dirt.  Potatoes take a long time to produce.  If your garden is in a colder northern climate, you may want to start plants early by planting the potato pieces in composted manure in a cold frame and then transplanting the plants, attached to the potato pieces, into the garden. 
 
Sweet potatoes are usually planted by setting out slips, i.e. potato plants.  You can buy sweet potato slips from the various seed companies or grow your own.  Growing slips is not that difficult.  There are several methods of growing them with and without dirt.  About three months before planting time, you can put potatoes in a container near a window in the sun with water covering about half of the potato and wait for sprouts to form.  When they are 5 or 6 inches tall, snap them off and put them in a glass container with water covering the bottom ends.  Leave them in a warm sunny place until they root.  Once rooted, you have slips that are ready to plant.  Make sure the soil is tilled to a depth of at least eight inches.  Make hills and add compost to keep the soil loose.  Mix the compost with the dirt to prevent it from drying out.  Plant one or two slips per hill, covering the bottom third of the slip with soil.  Water the plants thoroughly after transplanting them. As the sweet potato vines grow, they will spread into the middles and need to be trained.
 
Weeding & Plant Maintenance
You will need to till and hoe about two or three times before the plants get too large to till without doing damage to the potatoes.  The last time that you till sweet potatoes, you will need to lay the vines over into the opposite middle before plowing.  You will need to train the vines by picking them up from the middles and placing them along the row. If you have more than one row, you can fold the plants over into the adjacent row forming a sweet potato bed.  As you are plowing Irish potatoes, you can rake some extra loose dirt around the base of the plants to give them more area for forming potatoes.  Potatoes should require no additional care, unless you encounter problems with pests.
 
Controlling Diseases and Insects
The most common problem encountered when growing potatoes is the Colorado potato beetle.  The adult beetle is brown with yellow and black stripes.  They lay eggs on the underside of the leaves.  Red larvae hatch and feed ravenously on the potato plant leaves. The larvae are hardy and not easily killed.  You may be able to hand pick the larvae and not use chemicals.  If you do use chemicals, you will need to select the appropriate insecticide and pay careful attention to the application instructions.  Make sure the label says it can be used on garden plants.  Always read and follow the directions on the containers when applying chemicals on garden plants.  For specific details on controlling diseases and pests, click on the "Gardening Resources" tab and go to the Sources of Information on Vegetable Garden Diseases and Pests.
 
Harvesting
Potatoes are ready to be harvested when the vines start to die.  You can plow them up, if you have several rows with a lot of plants.  For small potato plots, you can dig them using a shovel, being careful not to cut the potatoes.  You should dry and cure potatoes before storage.  It is possible to keep potatoes for months or even all winter if stored in a cool dark place, e.g. a cool cellar.  Light and warmth can cause stored potatoes to go bad by causing them to sprout and turn green.  Irish potatoes are good fried or mashed.  Sweet potatoes can be baked and even made into a pie.
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