Rooting Potatoes – Potatoes like cool weather and well-drained, loose soil that is about 45 to 55°F (7 to 13°C). In warmer climates, potatoes can be grown as a winter crop. Folklore offers many “best days” for planting potatoes: Old-timers in New England planted their potato crops when they saw dandelions blooming in the open fields. The Pennsylvania Dutch considered St. Gertrude’s Day (March 17, aka St. Patrick’s Day) to be their official potato-planting day. Many Christians believed that Good Friday was the best day to plant potatoes because the devil holds no power over them at this time. All of these “best days” suggest an early spring planting! (See more about planting below.)
WHEN TO PLANT POTATOES
Potatoes can be started 0 to 2 weeks after last spring frost. You may plant earlier, as soon as soil can be worked, but be aware that some crops may be ruined by a frost or wet soil. Find your local frost dates here. However, if have a “late” spring, it’s not too late to plant potatoes through April (depending on where you’re located). Some folks even plant through June, especially in containers or potato towers.
HOW TO PLANT POTATOES
With a hoe or round-point shovel, dig a trench about 6 inches wide and 8 inches deep, tapering the bottom to about 3 inches wide. Potatoes are best grown in rows. Space rows about 3 feet apart. Spread and mix in rotted manure or organic compost in the bottom of the trench before planting. (Learn more about soil amendments and preparing soil for planting.)
In the trench, place a seed potato piece, cut side down, every 12 to 14 inches and cover with 3 to 4 inches of soil. The best starters are seed potatoes from which eyes (buds) protrude. (Do not confuse seed potatoes with potato seeds or grocery produce.) Use a clean, sharp paring knife to cut large potatoes into pieces that are roughly the size of a golf ball, making sure that there are at least 2 eyes on each piece. (Potatoes that are smaller than a hen’s egg should be planted whole.) If you are cutting up potato pieces for planting, do so 1 to 2 days ahead of planting. This will give them the chance to “heal” and form a protective layer over the cut surface, improving both moisture retention and rot resistance. 12 to 16 days after planting, when sprouts appear, use a hoe to gently fill in the trench with another 3 to 4 inches of soil, leaving a few inches of the plants exposed. Repeat in several weeks, leaving the soil mounded up 4 to 5 inches above ground level (this is called “hilling”). After the potato plants have emerged, add organic mulch between the rows to conserve moisture, help with weed control, and cool the soil.
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