Plant Life

ramblings and tips about plants and all things green from Peg Tillery of WSU Kitsap Extension.
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Potatoes

March 2nd, 2011 by Peg Tillery

Potatoes
     Have you ever tried to grow your own potatoes? They’re an ideal plant for children and adults to try. They can be grown directly in our gardens and in containers. Ciscoe Morris even grows some of his potatoes in a hole-perforated garbage can.
     Traditionally, gardeners plant potatoes on or around St. Patrick’s Day. Purchase seed potatoes from your favorite nursery or at a feed store. Some gardeners even buy organic potatoes to plant in their gardens. The non-organic potatoes are often treated with a growth inhibitor, so you won’t want to use those for your potato starts, they won’t germinate.
     Cut the potatoes into sections making sure to leave one or more eyes for each section. Allow several hours or overnight for the sections to dry out and callous over. Some of the smaller varieties will need to be planted whole, rather than in segments. If you’re using the Ciscoe garbage can method, you’ll keep all the potatoes whole.
     Potatoes grow from tubers (what we know of as eating potatoes). The plants grow from these tubers. When the plant reaches about six inches tall, cover up the stem and most of the leaves with soil or straw, leaving one to two inches exposed. Each time the plant grows taller, cover up more and more of the stem, always leaving a segment of stem with leaves sticking out. Do this several times. It’s called “hilling up.” Covering up the stems allows the plants to produce the potatoes to harvest. The potatoes are growing in the dark all along the covered up stems. Continue until the plant reaches one to three feet tall, depending on the variety. You’ll be watering the plants regularly (at least once a week, and more in the dryer summer months). You’ll also fertilize the plants at the beginning.
     New potatoes are harvested earlier in the growing year. Mature potatoes are harvested anywhere from September through November. Some gardeners leave their potatoes in the ground through the winter, harvesting them as needed.
     The only drawbacks to growing potatoes is they’re often hard to uncover. You may discover plants popping up and growing in unexpected places year after year. The only problems potatoes encounter is blight (a rarity here in our area) and scab. Scab is more unsightly than harmful to the potato. Scab can be managed. Avoid potato blight by rotating vegetable crops.
     For more information about planting and growing potatoes call the Extension Office at 360-337-7157. For Ciscoe’s potato planting method visit www.ciscoe.com/archive/spuds.

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