Growing potatoes is a great way to have superior flavor and stretch your food budget. Buy seed potatoes from garden centers or through online sites for best results. However, once you begin growing potatoes, it will be easy to just save your own from year to year. If you save your own seed potatoes, discard any that show any signs of disease. Avoid planting potatoes from the supermarket because they have been treated with chemicals to limit sprouting.
Cut seed potatoes that are larger than a chicken egg into pieces about 1 inch across or slightly larger. This is called chitting. Each piece should have at least one “eye” (the bud where the stem will grow from). Egg-sized and smaller can be planted whole. In the past, frugal gardeners often would peel potatoes for the evening meal, and plant the peelings.
Cut seed potato pieces are allowed to cure for a day or two before planting. This is because the cut potatoes need high humidity, plenty of oxygen and temperatures between 50 F and 65 F to heal quickly.
If you want fast emergence, keep the paper grocery bag of cut potatoes at room temperature until sprouts appear. Some varieties are slow to break dormancy while others sprout in just a few days.
Plant about 2 to 4 weeks before your last frost date. The soil temperature should be at least 40 F. Do not plant where you've grown potatoes, tomatoes, peppers or eggplant in the past 2 years.
One way to plant potatoes is to dig a shallow trench about 4 inches deep with a hoe. Place the seed potato pieces with their eyes up (cut sides down) about 8 to 12 inches apart in the trench, and cover with soil. Space trenches about 2 to 3 feet apart. Stems and foliage should emerge in about 2 to 4 weeks, depending on soil temperature.
When the plants are about 6 to 8 inches tall, “hill” the potatoes by hoeing soil loosely around the base of the plants to within about an inch of the lower leaves from both sides of the row. Repeat in about 2 to 3 weeks.
Another way is to place seed pieces shallowly into the soil and cover with a thick layer of clean straw. Add more mulch as needed to keep light from reaching potatoes.
Potatoes need at least 1 inch of water per week from either rainfall or deep watering. Mulching helps retain moisture. Keeping the soil from drying out also helps reduce scab.