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Planting Potatoes

By Lara DeHaven

I am currently reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my son, Jake.  Recently we read:

Father asked:  “You know how to raise potatoes, Almanzo?”
“Yes,” Almanzo said.
“Say you have a seed potato in the spring, what do you do with it?”
“You cut it up,”  Almanzo said.
“Go on, son.”
“Then you harrow–first you manure the field, and plow it.  Then you harrow, and mark the ground.  And plant the potatoes, and plow them, and hoe them.  You plow and hoe them twice.”
“That’s right, son.  And then?”
“Then you dig them and put them down cellar.”

Almanzo at the ripe age of 9 knew how to plant and harvest and store potatoes.  They depended on their potato crop for year long food.   They also depended on their harvest for money.  They sold 500 bushels of potatoes.  That is a lot of excess potatoes!

It might sound difficult, but most of us are not planting acres of potatoes.  My family has planted red potatoes, white potatoes, and sweet potatoes.  The latter are not true potatoes, and are not planted in the same way.  Therefore if you are planting sweet potatoes, do NOT follow these instructions.

There are a variety of potatoes from gold to blue.  Choose a variety that your family enjoys.  This year we are growing Red LaSoda potatoes.  Make sure that you select a variety that grows well in your area.  Mother Earth News is a great resource for that kind of information.

Begin with seed potatoes because grocery store potatoes have been sprayed with something to inhibit sprouting, which is not ideal for gardening.  There are almost as many ways to plant potatoes as there are varieties to plant.  Today I am going to share my method.

  1. Cut the potatoes so that 2 or 3 eyes are present on the pieces.  An eye is the sprout, which grows out of the indentation in the skin of the potato.  I count both the actual growing sprouts and the potential sprouts in the indentations as eyes.
  2. Next, dip the sliced end of the potato into ashes*.  Be careful to not knock the sprouts off.  Allow the seed potatoes to dry outdoors between 24 to 48 hours.  Doing this step ensures that the seed will not rot.
  3. Potatoes are heavy feeders; therefore, prepare your soil with worm castings, dried manure, or composted material.  My husband tills up the soil with a tractor to aid in evenly distributing the natural fertilizers.
  4. I plant my potatoes about three feet apart and 2 inches deep.  Plant with the eyes pointing up.  Cover with soil.
  5. Then I lay old, wet, rotting hay down over the planted rows of potatoes.  The mulch serves several purposes.

First, the mulch marks where the potatoes are planted so that children and my husband do not walk on top of the seed potatoes.  Second, the mulch acts as a slow-release fertilizer as the hay is constantly breaking down.  Third, the hay helps keep the weeds at bay.  As your potato plants grow, continue to add more mulch to keep the weeds away.

Shallow planting with a mulch cover allows farmers/gardeners to harvest their potatoes easily.  You do not have to dig deeply in search of your potato.

Harvest new potatoes when the plant blooms.  Wait until the plant dies to harvest potatoes to store.  You will have to dry and sort them before storing.

Usually people plant potatoes in my area on Valentine’s Day.  Watching the signs of nature, I kept postponing my planting date.  I planted 10 pounds of seed potatoes.  I am expecting about 50 plants from this amount.  If the plants emerge before the season’s last frost, then I will cover the plant with the hay to protect it.

I hope that you found this article helpful and full of good information.  If you have any questions, contact me or leave me a comment.

*In old-fashioned farming, wood ashes were used often to ward of insects and improve the soil conditions.  Ashes raise potassium levels in the soil.  I use ashes in very small amounts to help dry the seed potato faster.  It draws the moisture out of the seed potato.  Since our soil is very acidic, the ashes actually lower the pH of our soil slightly.  Some people have found that the use of ashes on potatoes increase your chances of potato scab.  I have not experienced that; however, check with your soil conditions before using the ashes.   It is an easy step to skip.  If you skip it, allow more time for your seed potato to dry out.  You don’t want it to rot in our soil.

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5 Responses to “Planting Potatoes”

  1. Hi Lara,
    What are the ashes for?
    Also, have you ever tried ‘planting’ on top the ground or in tire towers?

  2. Bonnie

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience. We tried planting potatoes last year with little success. The tips about the ashes and drying out might just do the trick this year!

  3. Lara DeHaven

    The ashes help draw the moisture out of the seed potatoes faster. Otherwise, you can let them dry out longer. You just don’t want the seed potatoes to rot in the ground before they get to work.
    In old-fashioned gardening, farmers used wood ashes at low levels, which have been found to help in controlling insects and adding potassium in the soil. Our soil is naturally acidic. The wood ashes help lessen the acidity of the soil slightly, which does not hurt our potatoes. If you have well-balanced soil or alkaline soil, then I would NOT use ashes. Some people report potato scab because of the ashes. I have never had a problem, though.
    Thank you for the question; I am going to revise my article to include this information.
    I have tried planting on top of the ground as Ruth Stout suggests. She must have amazing soil using her heavy mulching techniques. My method is a compromise that allow the seed potato to draw nutrients from the soil as well as have a nice layer of mulch. The higher you mound of soil and/or mulch, the higher yield you should receive.
    My sister-in-law raised potatoes in the tire towers. Her potato plants were tall and deep green. She was disappointed with the yield. She felt that the plant spent more time feeding itself than making potatoes. The tires also became one big fire ant bed.
    I hope this answers your questions thoroughly. Consider your soil before using ashes.

  4. Lara DeHaven

    You are welcome. Please read my reply to Carol about the ashes before you use them.

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