It’s Potato Time

    • Spring vegetables love cool, moist weather and don’t mind a little frost. Set out lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, spinach and Swiss chard starts now.
    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Sweet peas, with their memorable fragrance, can be planted now from nursery starts or seeds for wonderful bouquets later this spring.
    • Thin raspberry canes to 4-6 inches apart. Cut back remaining canes to 3 feet tall.
    • Apple trees are still available as bare-root trees, but only for a short while longer. Start your orchard now!

Home Grown Potatoes

The versatile and nutritious potato has been a staple crop for hundreds of years. Native to the Andes mountains of South America, the early European explorers brought the first potatoes home to Europe in the 1500’s. Ireland became the first country to adopt them wholeheartedly partly because potatoes were so well-suited to their cool climate. Irish settlers brought them to America in the early 1700’s, and they eventually became an important vegetable here as well.

Potatoes grow from other potatoes. You can plant a whole, small potato or a piece of a larger one to grow a new plant. The potato you plant is called a “seed” potato. A potato has several slightly recessed, dormant buds or “eyes” on the surface. When conditions are right these eyes will sprout, whether the potatoes are in the ground or in the kitchen cupboard. When planted in the ground, these sprouts develop into plants.

As the potato plant grows, it develops new potatoes above the original seed potato. This starts to happen about six weeks after planting. When the plants flower, the first “new” potatoes are usually ready to harvest. Once the foliage starts to wither and die back, the tubers will be full-grown.

Potatoes should be planted as soon as the soil has dried out enough to turn it. Potatoes like cool weather, especially when the tubers start forming. The best crops are produced when the daytime temperature is in the 60°-65°F range. When the temperature goes over 84°, tuber production stops.

Potatoes can also be grown in large containers. Fill the container about one third full with potting soil. Put the seed potatoes on top of the soil, spaced about 6 inches apart, and at least 4 inches away from the sides of the container. Then cover them with two inches of potting soil.

When the plants reach 6 inches tall, add two or three inches of potting soil, covering the lower leaves of the plants. Repeat this every time the plants reach a height of 6 inches above the soil, until the soil is 2 inches from the top of the container. Try to keep the soil evenly moist through the growing season.

It is best to plant certified, disease-free potatoes sold at nurseries. About eight to ten pounds of seed potatoes will plant a 100-foot row and yield 50 to 100 pounds of potatoes.

Early varieties will do best in our climate, so that they mature before the summer heat. Red LaSoda is a bright red, round potato that is good for boiling and potato salads. Red Pontiac has a thin reddish skin and crisp white flesh, and is an all-purpose potato that does well in heavy soils. Red Gold is a high-yielding, red potato with yellow flesh that is excellent boiled.

Yukon Gold is a round, light-skinned, yellow-fleshed potato with a buttery flavor. Yellow Finn is a delicious, yellow-fleshed tuber that is good for boiling or baking. California White has smooth white skin and smooth, creamy flavor that makes a great potato salad.

Russet Burbank is the familiar Idaho baking potato with a heavy brown skin that is excellent baked. All Blue has deep blue skin and flesh that is blue all the way through. It is novel but fine flavored and can be served in different ways but is particularly attractive in salads.

Plant your favorite varieties now, and look forward to those delicious, home-grown flavors.

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