The mighty potato is a staple root crop in most of the world. It is a nutritious, filling food that is high in Vitamin C, Potassium, Fiber, and Vitamin B-6. It even has some protein!
When growing potatoes, it is important to take into consideration the time it takes to grow the tuber, which is the root flesh of the plant, and the spacing that potatoes require to have the potatoes grow to a proper size.
Planting from “seed potatoes” is the easiest way to grow potatoes. Have you ever noticed that potatoes that sit around too long grow little stalks with leaves out of their eyes? This is how you grow a potato plant, using the eyes of the potatoes and the self-sprouting capacity the potato innately has. Seed Potatoes, in contrast to grocery store potatoes, have not been sprayed with growth inhibitors, which means they will grow quite readily when planted.
Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply typically carries White Kennebec and Red Pontiac seed potatoes to be planted in the fall/winter months. We’ll let you know if we get in any other awesome varieties!
Seed Potato Prep
Inspect your seed potato for the location of eyes. Using a sharp, clean knife, cut the seed potatoes into approximately 1-1.5 inch pieces (this is usually “quartering” the potato) so that there is at least 1 eye on each piece. Cut enough to fill your planting space as described below. Ideally you should allow the seed potato pieces to heal for a day or two to help prevent rot, however, you can plant them fresh-cut if you don’t feel this will be an issue.
Soil Prep for Potatoes
Soil for potatoes should be slightly acidic, with a pH of 5 to 6. You can use pine straw or leaves as a compost additive to slightly increase the acidity of the soil, as both of these organic components have tannic acid, a naturally-occurring mild acid that can slow-release into the soil without burning roots (many people mulch acid-loving plants like roses, blueberries, and azaleas with pine straw for this reason).
Soil must be well-draining as well to help prevent stem rot and fungus. You will want to loosen the soil down at least 10-12 inches to assist with drainage, and so that the root tubers can grow unimpeded. This also helps you make easier work of the mounded rows you have to build. Make wide mounded rows, at least 10 inches in height, in the soil to plant your potatoes in. Make sure you leave yourself enough room to walk between the rows! You can also plant several rows in a raised bed of equivalent height (this substitutes for the mounds).
Planting Your Potatoes
Make 4″ holes in rows about 6-8 inches apart, with the rows being about 3 feet apart (the row distance can be shortened for raised beds). Put 2 seed potato pieces into each hole, eye-side up. Cover with dirt and water in. In cooler weather, which is when these are planted, it can take up to 2 weeks to see sprouts come to the surface, so be patient.
Water and Fertilizer
Potatoes need water, but over-watering can cause root and/or stem rot. A good inch of water a few times a week is plenty. You’ll know if you’re not watering enough because the leaves will get slightly wilted. Most of the time, potatoes establish their own water sources from healthy soil in all but the very driest conditions.
You will want to fertilize at the time of planting, and then again 3-4 weeks after they sprout. After periods of heavy rainfall you will need to fertilize again. We recommend Shell’s Organic 3-3-3 for fertilizing your organic growing crops, or Shell’s 6-6-6 for regular gardening. If your soil is especially nutrient-poor, a 10-10-10 slow-release fertilizer is a good way to elongate the feeding time
You can work a slow-release fertilizer into the soil during the planting process to assist with nutrient retention. In subsequent fertilizations, scratch the fertilizer into the top couple inches of soil so that it doesn’t blow or wash away as easily.
Your biggest pest enemies in Florida are fungus, stem rot, and potato weevils. We have products to help you with fungus, so be sure to keep an eye out for the sign of fungal infection. Stem rot is usually caused by physical damage to the stems, so be very careful when weeding and walking around the potato plants. In small home gardens, the easiest ways to deal with insects feeding on your crops is to hand-pick them off of the crops, and to carefully weed around the plants (as harmful insects can hide in weeds). There are some articles listed below for your reference if you would like more information on pests. And of course, we here at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply are always here if you have questions.
Potatoes are ready sometime between 80-120 days. That means you have a long window of possible harvest. Normally, when the potatoes are “done” the plant above ground will start to turn yellow and wither (and not from any disease, fungus, or rot). Some farmers wait until 2-3 weeks after the plant top has died before they harvest, or they induce the plant to be done by cutting off the tops of the plants at a certain time.
When you decide to harvest, carefully dig up the plant and remove the root tubers from it, keeping in mind that potatoes can be found in the root systems sometimes up to a foot away from the plant. Discard the seed potato if you still find it attached to the plant.
#ProTip Plant your potatoes in succession. Succession planting means that you plant your potatoes in small groups over a period of weeks, maybe 6 at a time, until you finish the row(s). When it comes time for harvest, you pull the plants in the same order that you planted them, giving you a longer harvest period and less problems finding space to store massive amounts of potatoes at one time.
Be sure to pull your potatoes before the first frost, very cold weather brings about rot quickly in potatoes.
Carefully brush off as much dirt as you can without washing the potatoes, unless you have a sticky clay-like soil, then you’ll have to wash and completely dry the potatoes. Store in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place for 10-14 days to allow the skin to harden and the potato to heal any cuts or scrapes from harvest that might have happened.
Storage after the “hardening” period should be in a humid, dark, well-ventilated area (outside Florida, this would be a root cellar; here, we have to be creative!)
Another great thing about potatoes is that if you did plant them all at the same time, you can leave them in the ground during that 80-120 days, so you can make the ground work as your storage facility, at least for a little while.
We don’t recommend refrigerating your potatoes. Temperatures below 55°F causes the starches to change their chemical composition, and they have less health benefits after that.
You have grown potatoes! Enjoy them baked, fried, mashed, riced – however you like them!