By Matthew R. March, MNRD
Polk County Extension Agent
Potatoes are one of America’s most popular vegetables and the average American consumes 125 pounds a year. Now is the time of the year to start planning for planting potatoes in your spring garden. Potatoes can be an easy crop to grow and can result in a bountiful harvest. However, potatoes are a cool season crop and if wanting to grow them in your spring garden you need to plant as soon as the threat for frost has passed. Potatoes grow best when the days are warm, and the nights are cool.
Two types of potatoes commonly planted here in East Texas are red and white. The red type is the most popular and stores longer than the white type. However. the white type has better cooking qualities. Recommended red type varieties are Dark Red Norland, Norland, Red LaSoda and Viking. Recommended white varieties are Atlantic, Gemchip, Kennebec and Superior.
Potatoes need full sun and do best in loose, well drained, slightly acid soil. All debris should be removed from the soil before making beds. Soil should be worked into beds that are 10-12 inches high and 36 inches apart. Because potatoes need adequate fertilizer early in the season, apply most of the fertilizer just before planting. Use two to three pounds of complete fertilizer such as 10- 20-10 for each 30 feet of row in bands two inches to each side and one inch below the seed piece. Do not allow the fertilizer to touch the seed piece. Apply fertilizer by flatting the beds at six to eight inches high and 10 to 12 inches wide. Using the corner of a hoe or stick, open a trench about four inches deep on each side of the bed. Apply half of the fertilizer in each trench. The seed pieces will be planted in the row between the two bands of fertilizer.
Potatoes are grown from the buds or eyes that are present on potatoes. You should purchase good seed potatoes. Do not buy potatoes from the grocery store for planting. One pound of seed potatoes will make nine to 10 seed pieces. To create seed pieces, you should cut seed potatoes into about the size of a medium egg. Each seed piece needs at least one good bud. Seed pieces should be cut six days before planting and remain in a well-ventilated spot until planting. This action will help to prevent rotting after planting.
Potatoes should be planted when soil temperature four inches deep reaches 50 degrees F. For Polk County, this typically occurs in mid to late February. Plant the seed pieces three inches deep and 12 inches apart. Cover the seed with soil and pack the soil with your hands or feet. Moisture stress followed by irrigation or rainfall can cause cracks in potatoes. To prevent this, keep soil moisture supply constant. Do not over water as this can cause rot or damage to the potatoes. Potatoes should be harvested when the tops begin to die, and the potato skin becomes firm. This typically occurs around 95 to 110 days after planting.
Potatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in America. By planning now for your spring garden, you can enjoy a bountiful potato harvest and can enjoy home grown French fries.