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Potato, how to grow and harvest potatoes

Potato planting, care and harvest

From planting to harvest, here are the practices that will help you grow beautiful potatoes.

Potato key facts

Name – Solanum tuberosum
Family – Solanaceae
Type – vegetable

Height – 1 ½ feet (50 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – rather light, rich and not too damp

Harvest – from June to November, depending on the variety.

Planting potato

Planting potato tubers is easy, all the more so that it doesn’t really depend on the climate zone you live in.

Planting potatoWait for mid-March in mild climates and beginning of April everywhere else before starting planting.

In non-freezing areas or near the coast, you can even start mid-February, but it is wise to provide for cover such as cold frames or tunnel greenhouses in case frost spells hit.

→ Read also: Germinating potato at the right moment

  • The ground must be well softened before planting to make the soil as light as possible.
    Till the earth to a depth of around 1 foot (30 cm).
  • We recommend planting the “certified germinating“ tubers from March to June.
    Planting time depends on the climate zone you are in, because frost spells must be behind you already.

Don’t hurry to plant because potatoes require that the ground beneath it be suitably warmed up first, since 50°F (10°C) at root level is needed for the potato to sprout.

  • Germinating potatoWait for the tubers to have begun germinating before setting them in place.
  • Place the tuber vertically, ensuring that the sprout faces upward.
  • Space tubers around 1 1/3rd feet (30 to 40 cm) apart, and bury them at a depth of 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm).
    Also, if you are planting several rows, ensure that rows are spaced around 2 to 2 1/3rd feet (60 to 70 cm) apart.

As an alternative, you may want to try simply returning a large potato to the ground upon harvesting, mimicking what would happen in nature.

  • Replant potato immediatelyThis will save you time in spring since you won’t need to go through the entire germinating and sowing steps.
  • However, there is a catch: you might lose the seed potato to underground pests over the winter.
  • Also, if ever the potato sprouts early and frost is expected, you will need to protect your plants against freezing with a cold frame or garden cloche until frosts are past.
  • This works best if you’ve been able to acclimatize your potatoes over several seasons and keep sowing “survivors“.

Exposure: Potato needs sun to develop well.

Caring for and growing potato

Although it is rather easy to care for, a potato plant benefits from being given attention to regularly in order to increase productivity and harvest.

Ridging potato, an important step

Ridging potatoWhen all plants reach a height anywhere from 1/3rd to 2 1/4th feet (10 to 55 cm), ridge their base with light soil.

Ridging means to build up a small mound at the base of the potato plant stems in order to secure the plant to the soil, protect it from wind, and let it grow at its best.

Watering potato, a special need to provide for

Potatoes are very sensitive to drought and do not cope well if the ground lacks water for too long.

Watering every evening is recommended when it is hot and that you see the leaves wilting. Avoid wetting the leaves as this might favor diseases such as mushrooms.

In order to remove any risk of the ground being too dry, it is recommended to mulch the base of the potato stems.

Potato harvest and different varieties of potato

How to harvest potato

Harvest of potatoes underwayIt is useless to harvest potatoes before the foliage turns completely yellow.

  • Yellowing leaves is the signal that harvest is imminent.
  • You should not delay because completely dry foliage means that you have waited too long.
  • Harvesting when all stems start wilting and yellowing, but still have green on them.

Once harvested, keep them in the dark in a cool, dry and ventilated place. A crate is perfect, since the openings help air circulate. Also great is a vegetable keeping silo.

Potato varieties by type of flesh

Ha! Here they are grouped by flesh firmness, but there is an outlier that stands out for its color: the vitelotte noire, or ‘black vitelotte’

> Potato varieties with firm flesh

These are excellent for fries and for keeping together when preparing long-cooking stew.

‘Roseval’, ‘Belle de Fontenay’, ‘BF 15’, ‘Amandine’, ‘Charlotte’, ‘Bernadette’, ‘Chérie’, ‘Pompadour’ and the famous ‘Ratte du Touquet‘ are varieties that all boast a firm flesh.

> Potato varieties with mealy flesh

Perfect mashed and for other cooking uses.

‘Monalisa’, ‘Ostara’, ‘Désirée’, ‘Bintje’, ‘Manon’, ‘Estima’, ‘Apollo’ or ‘Resy’

Varieties grouped according to harvest dates

> Summer harvest, from May to July

‘Belle de Fontenay’, ‘Monalisa’, ‘Manon’, ‘Ostara’, ‘Amandine’, ‘Bernadette’, ‘Charlotte’, ‘Chérie’, ‘Rosabelle’

> Fall harvest, from September to November

Most famous among a great many more, there is the ‘Nicola’, the ‘Bintje’ and the ‘Désirée’

Insects and diseases that attack potato

Potatoes are nonetheless vulnerable to certain diseases and parasites that must be taken care of and treated quickly.

  • Diseases and pests on potatoAphids – leaves lose their original color and roll themselves into cylinders.
  • Potato blight – brown spots appear on leaves and spread to reach the entire foliage and the potatoes.
  • Colorado potato beetle – this is the most prevalent of insects that can threaten potato plants.
  • Rhizoctonia solani
  • Bacterial rot

Potato pinworm or leafminer

Together with tomatoes that are part of the same Solanaceae family, potatoes can also be attacked by a moth called the tomato pinworm or leafminer. This parasite can destroy up to 100% of a harvest.

All there is to know about the potato plant

Potato originPotato originated in the Andes mountain range in South America and were introduced in Europe at the end of the 16th century, after Christopher Columbus had discovered America.

Studies show that potato has been in use for over 8,000 years, but it is only after it arrived in Europe that cultivation spread across the world. Today, potatoes are grown in more than 150 countries and grow under virtually all climates.

Potato undoubtedly forms one of the most common staple foods in the world.

  • Easy to grow and with a high productivity, potato is more and more cultivated by knowing gardeners and amateurs alike.
  • This ensures high-quality produce as well as a host of different varieties that are not commercially available anymore.
  • With a high vitamin B1 and C content as well as a strong source of carbohydrates, you will also appreciate potato for its high iron and potassium content.
  • Health: health benefits of the potato plant

Smart tip about potato

At planting time, after digging your rows to a depth of 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm), place your tubers and cover them with the finest possible soil. Remove sticks, rocks and hardened clods.

Images: CC BY 2.0: Ivan Radic; Pixabay: muh, Alexey Hulsov, Rainer Berns, Therese-Liise Aasma, Надежда Мельникова, Petra Fischer
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