Since potatoes are so cheap at the supermarket and are available all year, many gardeners forsake potatoes in favor of rarer or more expensive vegetables. However, potatoes are easy to grow, easier to store, and you can get several pounds of potatoes from a single plant. There's a world of potato varieties beyond the old familiar russet, including purple and blue potatoes, or long, skinny fingerling potatoes that are perfect for roasting with herbs. Add potatoes to your garden this year, and find out just how delicious fresh homegrown potatoes can be.
Choose high-quality seed stock when planting potatoes--available at garden centers and nurseries. Most conventional grocery-store potatoes are treated with a growth retardant, so they may not perform well in the garden. Certified-organic potatoes are less likely to have been treated. If you have some sprouty organic potatoes in your kitchen, and have got the room in your garden, go ahead and plant them.
Place the seed stock in a sunny location about a week before planting to induce sprouting. Seed potatoes smaller than a golf ball should be planted whole, while larger seed potatoes should be cut into pieces a day or two before planting. Each piece should have at least two eyes or buds.
Potatoes need room to spread out, and they should be planted 15 inches apart in rows three feet apart. If space is a consideration in your garden, consider planting baby potatoes, which are harvested when they are small, and can be planted closer together. You could also plant a small, quick-growing crop like radishes or lettuce between the rows of potatoes.
If you have loose, fertile soil in your garden, you may plant potatoes using the Stout method, which is simply placing the seed stock on top of the soil and heaping 6 to 8 inches of mulch on top. The potatoes then form at or near the surface of the soil and are much easier to harvest. According to Mother Earth News online, the method was named for organic gardener Ruth Stout, who described it in her no-till gardening books in the 1950s.
Otherwise, plant the seed stock 6 to 8 inches deep in the soil, with the cut side facing down. You could also loosen the soil with a garden fork, then cover the seed stock with 1 to 2 inches of soil, plus several inches of mulch. Add more soil or mulch throughout the growing season if needed; exposure to sunlight causes potatoes to turn green.
Harvest and Storage
Potatoes form underground, and you can dig baby potatoes for immediate consumption two to three weeks after the plant has finished flowering. If you want to store potatoes over the winter, allow them to cure in the ground for two to three weeks after the foliage has completely died back. Carefully lift the potatoes out of the ground with a garden fork, then spread them out and allow them to dry outside for another two or three days before bringing them in. In wet weather, you could dry them in a garage or enclosed porch. Store the potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place, like a root cellar or a potato box.