Dig In: How to plant seed potatoes

Seed potatoes will soon be available at garden centres. Why grow our own when they're so cheap and easy to buy?

Bakes

Bakes

Seed potatoes will soon be available at garden centres. Why grow our own when they’re so cheap and easy to buy?

Potatoes well-grown in your own yard taste so delicious that you want to eat them every day and they contain more nutrients than commercially grown potatoes.

It’s worth the money to buy seed potatoes rather than planting those bought in the grocery store, even organic ones, because seed potatoes have been grown in virus-free soil so they will be free of pathogens when we buy them.

I buy two kinds, an early and a late variety and plant them during the last two weeks of May. Any earlier than this we risk exposure to a rogue frost that kills vines above the soil, wasting energy that was spent growing them and resulting in smaller potatoes. Also, potatoes planted in late spring will crop later in the summer and store better over the winter.

You’ll get a harvest with six to eight hours of sun a day, but full sun every day produces more spuds. My potato bed is three feet wide as are all my beds. Since I rotate my crops, planning is easier when the beds are all the same size and this width suits me well.

Cut down any cover crops and weeds ahead of time, lay that in the paths beside the bed and spread fertilizer down the centre of the bed in a foot-wide swath at the rate of four quarts per 100 square feet. Add a half inch of compost over the whole bed and dig that in about one foot deep. The vegetation we laid in the paths provides for a lighter covering when the time comes to pull it up with the soil to hill the potatoes. The potatoes will grow larger when covered with this fluffy layer of soil and vegetation rather than with soil alone.

You’ll get a better, more dependable harvest if you chit the potatoes three to four weeks before planting. This involves spreading the seed potatoes one layer thick in bright, not direct, sunlight, until they turn green and begin to sprout. Carry them to the garden, being careful not to break off the sprouts. Cut large potatoes in half just before planting.

Scoop out holes in the new bed one foot apart, gently lay each potato piece into each hole so that its top comes to one inch below soil level, then cover it with soil. When the sprouts are four inches high, drag soil over them from both sides of the bed and, as they grow, continue hoeing soil from the sides along with the cover crop or weeds cut down earlier. Stop hilling soil over the vines when it’s a foot high in the centre and 18 inches wide at the base.

I spray compost tea three or four times during the season when they are growing leaves, but stop when they start to flower as this indicates tuber-formation when nitrogen from the tea will grow more leaves at the expense of forming tubers. Last year David built a three-foot-high box around a bed of potatoes and they out-produced the bed without a box.

Speaking of David, he loves baked, stuffed potatoes. Easy to prepare, potatoes provide a complete protein when paired with a small amount of dairy. Scoop out the insides of a baked potato and mash it with butter, salt and pepper. Add two tablespoons of chopped and fried onion, one ounce of grated cheese and a half crushed garlic clove and mash this in too. Stuff it back into the potato and bake at 350 degrees for half an hour. Add a salad and you’ve got dinner.