Hot Potato!

Consider the potato: round, brown (typically), and a staple on most tables. If you believe the Earth is round and the sky is blue, then chances are you’ve consumed a potato. Predating the New Testament (somewhere between 8000 and 5000BC), the potato was first domesticated in the region of modern-day southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia. Today there are over 5,000 cultivated potato varieties worldwide and is seen as a major cash crop.

With such prevalence and overall popularity, it’s simple to consider why so many professional and amateur gardeners choose to include the potato plant (Solanum tuberosum) in their vegetable gardens.

Here are five simple steps when choosing to plant potatoes:

1 – Seeds

There are two ways to approach this: You can purchase a seed potato at your local garden shop, or you can recycle. Basically, by using leftover potatoes you purchased from the supermarket. If done this way, slice the potatoes into quarters, making sure each piece has no more than three “eyes” (the small pits or indents on the surface). Place in the sun and let it sit for a day or two, or until you begin to notice the eyes growing sprouts. Contrary to what your high school science teacher may have told you, you don’t have to soak the old potatoes.

2 – Soil

You can plant your potatoes in a patch of land, or you can put them in a planter. The most important thing is making sure your soil is as weed-free as possible. Additionally, you might want to add a compost mixture or manure into the soil to make it nutrient-rich.

3 – Plant and prepare

Time your planting so that it falls a week or two before the last frost of the season for your area. Put your seed potatoes or potato fruit seeds about an inch into the soil, and then build a small mound of dirt over them. Potatoes should be far enough apart that, if they grew to a normal size, they wouldn’t run into each other underground. As your stems grow, add to your mound of soil at the base; if your potatoes receive sunlight while growing, they’ll turn green.

4 – Love your spuds

Caring for your potato as it grows will ensure a healthy, edible product come harvest. Like everything else, watering your potatoes on a regular basis is vital to uniform growth. Once a week should be fine as long as it is a thorough watering, but do it more often if necessary. If the leaves of the plant look like they’re wilting, then your potatoes need more water.

Be careful not to over water or you’ll end up with black potatoes. If you see a weed, pull it! Also, check the potato plant leaves. If you see holes or yellowing, it could be due to pests and bugs. Get rid of these suckers the natural way—don’t use a pesticide on your potatoes.

5 – Harvest

Potatoes should be ready two months after planting. Easiest way to know for sure? Look for the ‘flowers’ to appear and the vine leaves to turn yellow and wither.