Potatoes exist in many different varieties. From the large Russets that are typically baked and served with sour cream and chives, to smaller, gourmet types such as "Yukon Gold," you can grow potatoes in your home garden without much fuss or trouble. You will want to plant potatoes that already have shoots in spring, after your final winter frost, but you can begin to get ready for planting earlier.
History of Potatoes
The abundant, nutritious potato originated in the Andes Mountains of South America, where residents began to cultivate and eat them some 7000 years ago. Spanish explorers in Peru learnt about the potato and took some home to Europe around 1570. Late in the 1700s, the Irish began to grow and use potatoes extensively. Potatoes have been introduced around the world and have served as a staple food for people of many countries for centuries.
Get Started in the Fall or Winter
Potatoes need a light, airy soil mix in order to thrive. If you have grown potatoes in the past, choose a sunny area where they haven't grown for 3 years or longer. Dig in manure, compost, or both---a 50-50 blend with your garden soil is recommended. Find out when your final winter frost typically occurs. Purchase seed potatoes 2 months before this date. Then "chit" them by cutting them into chunks and then packing them into trays. Place the ends with the largest number of eyes upward. Place your tray where it will receive sunlight for part of each day. Within 6 weeks you will see shoots.
Seed Potatoes or Grocery Store Potatoes?
Experienced potato growers recommend that you purchase seed potatoes from a local supplier for best results. Although you can use the eyes from store-bought potatoes, the varieties available there might not be ideal for your climate zone. Sometimes you can buy potato starts that have already been chitted. According to Catalan Gardener, the best crops result from chitted seed potatoes purchased during March.
Simple Planting Method
After your final frost, dig a trench 6 inches deep, then place your sprouted potato eyes 12 inches apart. Fill the trench to within 2 inches of the top: you will fill it completely as your plants mature. Thickly spread some mulch of oak leaf mould or straw over the planting area, then water it well. Fertilise with fish emulsion or seaweed extract once each week until you start to see flowers forming on the vines. Also stop watering when flowers form. Continue adding mulch and the soil that you originally dug out as the vines grow.
Special Varieties of Potatoes
You can order seed potatoes through seed catalogues. For a different variety of red potato, consider Cal Red, Desiree or Ruby Crescent. Unusual white potatoes include Irish Cobbler and Kennebec. If you want to impress friends and family with a gourmet variety, try growing a blue potato such as Caribe, Purple Peruvian or Viking Purple. Yellow potatoes include Charlotte, German Butterball, Russet and Yellow Finn. Fingerlings are long and thin, often used in French soups and stews. Try fingerling varieties such as Austrian Crescent or Russian Banana for a different potato experience. All varieties do best when you plant them in the spring.