Kids love to start potatoes because
you don't plant seeds - you plant EYES.
EWWWW!!!! But don't worry. They're not
REAL eyes. The "eyes" of a potato are the small indented buds that are
scattered around each tuber, and from which new potato plants can grow.
Potatoes are nutritious and come in
many colors: white, brown, red, yellow, and even blue and purple ones.
Keep in mind that the ONLY edible part
of a potato is the part that grows underground - the "tuber." The stems, leaves
and every other plant part is poisonous - part of the nightshade family - so
teach kids NEVER to eat anything but the potato.
The edible part - the tuber - is kind
of like a refrigerator for the rest of the plant. It stores the plant's food!
The plant's leaves draw in the
sunlight, water and carbon dioxide from above ground, and converts them into
energy. The energy is stored below as the potatoes we like to eat.
Pulling up the potatoes and separating
them from the green parts of the plant will kill the plant, but that's OK:
we'll just plant new potato "eyes" next year and grow some more!
Two to four weeks before the date of
the last expected frost, or in mid- to late April in the Omaha area, you can plant potato eyes. They
will germinate most easily in soil temperatures of 65 - 70 degrees, so planting
them much earlier than this probably won't pay off.
You have to plan ahead to plant potato
eyes, and mark a couple of key dates on your calendar because potatoes require
a couple of tasks later on.
Purchase seed potatoes, which are
marketed specifically because they will produce good plants. You might get some
plants out of store-bought table potatoes. But you'll be happier with your
harvest if you use seed potatoes. Potatoes are very disease-prone, so it's best
to use certified disease-free seed potatoes for a good crop.
Two days before planting, cut each
seed potato into two-inch chunks, making sure that there is one "eye" in each
chunk. Let them dry on a paper towel indoors at about 70 degrees, in high
humidity so that the chunks don't begin to rot.
Make trenches that are about six
inches deep and six inches wide, and cultivate well. Add a little compost.
Place each chunk about 12" apart, and
cover with 3" to 4" of soil.
One week AFTER shoots emerge, mound
the soil around the base, leaving a few inches of the shoots exposed. This is
called "hilling." It is important to prevent your potatoes from getting exposed
to the light and turning green in color.
Two or three weeks later, apply
fertilizer about 6" away from the plant, and "hill" again, mounding up still
Your potato plants may reach about 24"
to 30" in height and will spread out about 24" in width. They may reach as deep
as 18" under the surface, or even deeper if you've dug down deep enough to
loosen the soil and make it easy to grow underneath.
HARVEST during blossoming or about 10
weeks after planting, if you want small "new" potatoes. Harvest about 17 weeks
after planting if you want regular-sized potatoes, when the vines have died
back about halfway.
To harvest, gently pull or dig out the
potatoes with a garden fork. Always do this in dry soil to avoid damaging the
skin. If you decide they aren't large enough yet, just pack the soil back and
try again in about two weeks.
If you intend to store the potatoes
over the winter instead of eating them right away, dig them near the first fall
frost, when the plant tops have died back. Dry them on the ground for a day or
two, and then cure at 50-60 degrees in high humidity for 10-14 days, out of the
sun so they don't turn green.
Once cured, store in total darkness in
a single layer. You can try adding some English lavender, rosemary or sage,
which are thought to keep potatoes from sprouting while in storage.
Good companion plants: Beans, catnip,
coriander, eggplant, flax, goldenrod, horseradish, nasturtium, onion and corn.
Potatoes are incompatible when planted
near cucumbers, peas, pumpkins, raspberries, spinach, squash, sunflowers or