Grow Your Own Potatoes
Photo by Lilly Anderson-Messec
January 31, 2014
By Lilly Anderson-Messec
It’s that time again to plan your potato-date! Potatoes are traditionally planted in the Tallahassee area around Valentine’s Day and are rewarding and easy to grow. The tried and true varieties for this area are Red Pontiac and White Kennebec. Both are medium to small, thin-skinned varieties with white flesh. Large baking potatoes are not well adapted to our climate. I tend to prefer Red Pontiac, which produces medium sized ‘new potatoes’ with beautiful purple-red skin. It has been a reliable producer for me here in Tallahassee and its creamy, buttery texture and flavor is of a quality well beyond any store bought potato.
Growing your own organic potatoes is really rather easy, and a lot of fun too. You’ll start with seed potatoes which are just small potatoes that are disease-free and ready to plant. I recommend purchasing these seed potatoes from a local nursery; grocery bought potatoes are treated with a growth inhibitor and may carry disease. Cut these whole seed potatoes into pieces with one or two eyes, with each cut piece being golf-ball size or larger. Small potatoes need not be cut. Let the pieces dry overnight before planting to reduce the likelihood of rot.
Potatoes like loose soil rich in organic matter, so work finished home compost or mushroom compost into your bed. There are many ways to plant potatoes, but the easiest and most reliable method I’ve found is as follows; Loosen up soil in your bed and remove any weeds. Make a trench 10 inches wide and 4 inches deep on level ground. If you have multiple rows, they should be at least 36 inches apart. If you haven’t already worked compost into the bed, you can add a layer of compost to the bottom of the trench. Use only finished mature compost that has completely broken down. Drop potato pieces into the trench about 12 inches apart and bury 3-4 inches deep. If you want to increase the size of your harvest, you can “hill up” the potatoes once the foliage has reached 6-8 inches tall. This means you would pull soil up around the base of the plants, leaving 4 inches of the plant above soil level. Be careful not to damage the roots of the plants. Hill a second time 2-3 weeks later if your desire. Mulch with pine or hay straw once you have finished hilling, to prevent weeds. Hilling the soil increases potato production but is not necessary if you can’t find the time or inclination. I still get a good size harvest on years I haven’t had the time to hill.
By the end of April, the green plants will start yellowing and dying back. This is the sign that your little potatoes are sizing up underground and are ready to begin harvesting. I use a garden fork to life up the tubers with the least amount of damage. This is my favorite part of the growing process, because it feels like you’re digging up buried treasure. It’s a great activity for kids (of all ages).
The easiest part is enjoying your harvest! I’ve included a recipe for inspiration from Native Nurseries owner, Donna Legare.
Dill Potato Salad
3 lbs. Red Pontiac potatoes
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped (optional)
¾ C celery, chopped
4-5 green onion or
1 small regular onion, chopped
Generous amount of chopped fresh dill in winter (or basil in summer)
2 T fresh parsley
Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Cut into quarters or eighths. Combine above in large mixing bowl.
Vinaigrette: Mix together ¼ cup mayonnaise, ¼ cup vegetable oil, 3 T red wine vinegar, 1 T Dijon mustard, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, 2 clove garlic, minced. Pour vinaigrette over mixture, toss gently, cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours. Serves 12.
Lilly Anderson-Messec is manager of Native Nurseries and is a member of the Leon County/UF IFAS Extension Urban Forestry/Horticulture Newspaper Column Working Group. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov