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How to Plant and Grow Potatoes in your Home Vegetable Garden

Solanum tuberosum

Have you ever munched down on a fresh, home grown potato? There is no comparison to the potatoes you buy in a market! Yummm! There is a very good reason why Potatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in the home garden. They're easy to grow, they store well for months and they taste much, much better.

The early history of the Potato

The Potato was first cultivated by the Inca Indians in Peru, in about 200 B.C. In 1537, the Spanish Conquistadors discovered the Potatoes and brought them back to Europe on their return trip. The first Potatos arrived in North America in 1621.
Today, Potatoes are one of the largest food crops in the world. Potato production in the United States alone has grown steadily in recent years with an increase from 35 billion pounds of Potatoes when I wrote this article (March 2000) to 50 billion pounds in 2007.

Growing Requirements for Potatoes

Potatoes require full sun to grow. Because they are aggressively rooting plants, they will produce the best crop when planted in a light, loose, well-drained but moisture retentive loam. Potatos prefer a slightly acid soil with a pH of 5.8-6.5..
Fortunately, however, Potatoes are very adaptable and will usually produce a respectable crop, even when the soil conditions are less than perfect.
Potatos should be rotated on a 3-year program. This means, you need 3-suitable sites if you want to grow Potatos every year.

Planting Your Potatoes

Potatoes can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the early spring, but you must use good judgment. Potato plants will not begin to grow until the soil temperature has reached 45 degrees F. The soil should be evenly moist, but not wet or soggy. If the soil is water logged when you dig, not only will you risk "caking" the soil, your seed Potatos will probably rot before they even get started. Potatos can tolerate a light frost, but you should provide some frost-protection for the plants when they are young. This can be a loose covering of straw, or a temporary plastic tent. (Be sure to remove or ventilate the plastic on sunny days!) If you plan to store Potatos through the winter, you can plant a second crop as late as June 15.

Potato Problems and Diseases

Be sure to only use only certified seed Potatoes!
Potatoes are susceptible to several serious diseases. Even though the Potato you saved from the previous year, or the Potato you see in the supermarket may appear healthy, they should not be used for your seed.
Certified seed Potatoes are disease free, and have been selected to give you the best results with the highest yields. Certified seed Potatos are available at most quality nurseries and garden centers. There are several different varieties of Potatos to choose from, each with it's own characteristics and qualities.
The most popular types of potatos are listed in Growing Potatoes Part 3.

Planting Potatoes

A week or two before your planned potato planting date, set your seed Potatos somewhere where they will be exposed to some warmth (between 60 and 70 degrees F.) and lots of light. This will induce them to begin sprouting.
A day or two before planting, use a sharp, clean knife to slice the larger seed Potatos into "seeds". Each seed should be approximately 1 1/2-2inches square, and must contain at least 1 or 2 "eyes" or buds. Smaller Potatos may be planted whole. In the next day or so, your 'seed' will form a thick callous over the cuts, which will help to prevent it from rotting once planted.

In Part 2 of Growing Potatoes in the Home Vegetable Garden,
I'll show you different methods for planting your potato crop...

Characteristics of different potato varieties