What do mashed potatoes, potato chips and French fries have in common? Answer: They are extremely delicious, they can be eaten at just about any occasion, they can be enjoyed all year round and they all come from the fourth most widely utilized vegetable in world, the humble potato. Though most cultures and countries would like to take credit for cultivating potatoes from the very beginning, according to latest genetic testing, potatoes were actually grown in Peru before anywhere else. Today however, no matter what corner of the world you find yourself in, you will most definitely come across this vegetable in one form or another. Potato is an extremely versatile vegetable, meaning that it can be transformed into any style you wish.
Almost all varieties of potatoes contain Vitamin B-6, Vitamin C, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Phosphorus, Folic Acid, Choline, Zinc and Potassium. Meaning that, they help to make bones stronger, keep the blood pressure low, prevent cancer, increase metabolism, clear the skin, regulate digestion and maintain overall health. Potatoes are also called the “fuss free” vegetable because they are neither hard to cook, nor frustrating to grow. So take heart, even a novice gardener can grow a sufficiently healthy crop on their very first try. So if you are thinking of growing your own fruits and vegetables to improve your health and that of your family, then you should definitely give potatoes a go.
There are over a hundred varieties to choose from to grow in your home garden. Each variety has its own specialty. Depending on its features and your needs, you can choose from one of the following types to grow. For each type there are many different varietal names.
- White Potatoes: This variety of potatoes doesn’t grow very large. The flesh of the potato appears white and its texture can be described as creamy and starchy. You can use this variety for making salads, mashed potatoes, fried potatoes and steamed potatoes.
- Red Potatoes: Though their skin is red, you will find that the flesh of the red potatoes is usually white. Texture-wise they are smooth and moist. If you like making soups and stews then you should definitely consider red potatoes.
- Yellow Potatoes: They can be small and round or even large and long. These potatoes are mostly velvety in texture with beautiful golden flesh inside. This variety is perfect for people who love to roast or grill potatoes. They are also perfect for mashing and making salads.
- Purple Potatoes: The flesh of these potatoes can be blue, lavender, purple or even pink, but their skin would be a constant beautiful purple color. The texture of this variety can be described as moist with an earthy flavor. You can grill, roast and even bake purple potatoes.
- Russet Potatoes: This is probably the most widely used variety of potatoes. You can find these potatoes in just about any size and shape, be it small, large, round, ovular, oblong, and even slightly flattened. The flesh can be white and yellow or even its namesake, russet-brown.
2. The Best Time to Grow Potatoes
Though potatoes grow very well in a cool weather, an actual frost might completely destroy the crop. If you live in a very cold region, then it might be best if you grow potatoes in an enclosed area such as a greenhouse or covered growing box. That is if you can provide them with and appropriate heat source. Otherwise you might want to wait until the risk of those very cold nights has passed. White and Red Potatoes can be planted early on in the year, generally between February and March. The best time to plant Yellow and Purple potatoes is at the very beginning of summer. However you must wait till the summer is waning to plant the Russets potatoes – they are an autumn loving variety. But don’t wait too long or the weather would be too cold for the crop to flourish.
3. Seed Potatoes
Potato plants actually grow from other potatoes called seed potatoes and not the actual seeds because they don’t have any. Seed potatoes usually have yellow and greenish sprouts coming out of them or have gouges called eyes. Avoid using potatoes from the grocery store for this purpose. You can buy certified and disease free seed potatoes online. This way you can guarantee that your crop will come out healthy. Seed potatoes from the grocery might sprout in your cupboard, but the potato tuber will simply rot when placed in the ground.
4. Selecting Your Patch
Potatoes thrive in loose, rich and slightly moist soil. But under no circumstances should it be water logged. As much as potatoes detest frost, they equally need a lot of regular sunlight to grow. Make sure that the area you select sees at least seven to eight hours of sunlight per day.
5. Preparing the Soil
Before planting, your first job is to loosen the soil to allow the potatoes to spread and grow evenly. Once you’ve loosened the soil, you can start to make it ready for planting. In a large container, mix up a combination of organic compost and rotted manure. Spread the mixture on top of the soil and leave it be for a few hours. After the allotted time, shake up the soil and the mixture to combine everything once again.
6. Planting the Seed Potatoes
In rows, dig out trenches in the ground about four inches deep. Between each trench, pile on soil to make a mound. Plant a single seed potato inside the trench. Press in the potato in the ground so that is two third in and one third out. Leave about eight to ten inches space between each seed potato.
7. Watering, Feeding and Maintenance
Like most vegetables, potatoes need adequate water to grow. But you don’t necessarily need to water them every day. If the weather is very hot then you might need to water them two or even three times a week. If the weather is mild then you can probably get away with watering them just once a week. Make sure to water the entire plant, leaves and all. One to two inch deep water at the roots ought to suffice.
Potatoes are “big eaters”, meaning that they need a lot of continuous nourishment to grow fully. Make sure that the fertilizer you use is nitrogen based. A week after planting, you should spread the fertilizer around the potato plants at least once every two weeks. You can also opt for a liquid fertilizer with a ratio of 5-10-10 NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium) and use the same schedule to spread it.
As the potato plants grow, you will find that the newly budded tubers might start to peak out of the top of the soil. This is a problem as they will turn green in the sunlight and become inedible (or sprout competing potato plants which will reduce your crop). The easiest way to stop this is to slowly scrape the soil back from the mounds in between the rows around the potato plants to increase the soil depth.
8. Organic Pest Control
Potatoes are usually attacked by pests like Leaf Hoppers, Aphids and Flea Beetles. These pests thrive on eating the leaves and stem of the potato plant. They also spread diseases that can destroy the entire crop in next to no time at all. You can go about protecting your potato plants two ways. You can buy a 100% natural pesticide from the market or you can make your very own and save a little money in the process.
You can use this ratio to make a large quantity of pesticide. One cup of vinegar with two cups of water and a large tablespoon of liquid dishwashing soap. Use a sprayer to cover your entire crop. You might need to spray multiple times or until the pests go away.
9. Harvesting New Potatoes
New potatoes can be harvested from the ground two to three weeks after the potato plant starts to flower. New potatoes are small, round and very immature. But they are considered a delicacy and have flavor and texture quite different from that of mature potatoes.
10. Harvesting Mature Potatoes
Make sure to pick a dry day to dig out the potatoes. When the leaves of begin to turn yellow or brown and are just about to wither, understand that they are ready to be harvested. This could be about seven to eight weeks from the day you plant them. You might want to dig out just one or two just to be sure. If they are full sized and look the appropriate color, then you can pull them all out. You can use the potatoes for just about anything as soon as they come out of the ground or you can store them for later use. But make sure to store them in a cool but dry place (like a basement). Then when the need arises, take them out and make your favorite dish out of them.