Growing potatoes is a cinch with our tips for choosing the best varieties, planting and harvesting.
Few crops are easier to grow than potatoes, and many varieties naturally break dormancy and start sprouting in early spring.
To learn more about getting started with your own garden, see Vegetable Gardening Tips for Beginners.
• In late winter, a couple of months before your last spring frost date, start collecting smallish store-bought potatoes you especially like, and set them in a warm, sunny windowsill. The sunlight will make them turn green, and the puckered “eyes” will swell into sprouts.
• Two to three weeks before your last frost, plant the sprouting potatoes three inches deep and at least 12 inches apart in a sunny spot.
• After the plants grow to a foot tall, hill up soil around the base of the plants to protect shallow tubers from exposure to sun. Then mulch heavily with grass clippings, straw or chopped leaves.
• When new growth stops and the older leaves start turning yellow, the lone potato you planted will have multiplied into a cluster of five or more nice potatoes just like their parent. If you’ve never eaten garden-fresh potatoes, you may be surprised by their juiciness and how quickly they cook.
Most gardeners can grow any type of potato except big baking potatoes, which need a long season with cool nights to produce well. Choose varieties based on your household’s priorities. Gourmet blue potatoes and nutty fingerlings are expensive to buy, yet easy to grow in the garden. If you’re passionate about heirlooms, consider ‘Daisy Gold’, with darker yellow flesh than ‘Yukon Gold’, or ‘Early Ohio’, a 100-year-old heirloom all-purpose white potato with tan skin. Self-sufficiency gardeners are wise to consider tried-and-true varieties such as all-purpose ‘Kennebec’ (tan skin with white flesh) or waxier red-skinned ‘Red Norland’, which are dependable enough to be sold in local farm-supply stores throughout North America.
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.
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