If you have never grown potatoes in your garden, you make think they are not worth the trouble. They are so inexpensive in the grocery store its all to easy to pick up a few for dinner. And anyways, potatoes are just potatoes, they're all the same right? Wrong!
Like many garden crops, there is no comparison between and selection you have planted and grown yourself and those store bought potatoes that have been in a cold storage for 6 months or more.
Potatoes are easy to grow and they prefer cooler weather so you should always try to get them into the ground at the right time. Our seed potatoes start arriving in mid-January for spring planting. Be aware that if you use supermarket potatoes, they have probably been treated with chemicals to inhibit sprouting so they may not grow well. And you usually have no idea of what variety you are planting.
Our potatoes are fresh out of the ground, bagged in woven toesacks and shipped directly to us. You should always plant potatoes that you will like. Most gardeners stay with varieties like red-skinned LaSoda or white skinned Kennebec. Russet type potatoes are not suited well for planting in East Texas.
Since it takes potatoes 2 to 3 weeks to emerge from the ground, the earliest you should plant them is 2 weeks before the last anticipated freeze of 28 degrees or less. With our East Texas summers reaching into the 100 degree range, it is best to plant your seed potatoes by Feb. 15th. This is because potatoes do not do well when the temps climb to 95 degrees or higher.
Your potatoes will do best in acidic, fertile soil that is well drained. If your soil is slightly alkaline, then you will want to add a generous amount of compost and some sulfur to help reduce it. Potatoes are heavy feeders so it is best to till in some fertilizer with your soil or compost. As a general rule, you should add 2-3 lbs. of a good commercial fertilizer, (we recommend 10-20-10) per 30 foot row. This will be all of the fertilizer you will need for a healthy crop of potatoes.
When you are ready to plant, you should cut your seed potatoes into 2-3 ounce pieces (golf-ball size), making sure that each piece has several eyes. Drop your pieces into a paper bag containing sulfur and shake the bag until all of your pieces are thoroughly covered with the dust. Now you should store them in a cool place for several days before actual planting.
The easiest way to plant your seed potato pieces is to dig a trench 6 to 8 inches deep and simply place your pieces into the bottom, with eyes facing up, spacing them about 8 to 12 inches apart and then covering them with 3- inches of soil. As your potatoes begin to sprout, you should 'hill' soil around the plants. The potatoes will form on 'stolons' (aka runners) that grow from the stem. This 'hilling' technique should be performed in several steps over the next several weeks. Make sure you don't cover any foliage growing above the ground. A 'hill' of potatoes can produce about a dozen potatoes. As a general rule, 1 pound of seed potatoes will produce 4-5 pounds of potatoes.
It is very important that you keep your young potatoes evenly moist throughout their growing period. It is best if you apply a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch around your plants to help retain moisture.
Diseases are usually more of a problem with potatoes. Potato scab attacks plantings where lime has been applied or your soil is very alkaline. This is another reason why you should make sure you apply sulfur to your pieces before planting them.
Although disease are more prevalent,you should always be on the lookout for such pests as pill bugs, grubworms and potato beetles that can cause much damage to your potato crop.
Your crop is ready to harvest when the foliage starts to yellow and die back, usually at 90-120 days after planting. Most of your potatoes will grow within a foot of the plant so be careful when digging them up.