Growing Potatoes by Jane Sommers, OSU Marion County Master Gardener

I first grew potatoes about 20 years ago by mistake. One day I pulled a big healthy weed out of my kitchen compost pile and – lo and behold – about 5 lbs. of potatoes were stuck to the bottom of it. They were the best-tasting potatoes I had ever eaten. I’ve been growing potatoes in my garden ever since.

Growing potatoes is easy and they are an abundant and nutritious crop. Potatoes are a good source for potassium, fiber, and vitamins C and B6, and antioxidants. They are low in fat and cholesterol (hold the butter). Purple, red, and yellow fleshed potatoes are higher in antioxidants than white-fleshed varieties.

It is best to buy certified seed potatoes. These are not actually seeds –they are potatoes grown specifically for planting and are free of pathogens such as blight and viral diseases. Planting grocery potatoes can be risky; you don’t know how they will perform, they may be carrying pathogens, and they are probably treated to prevent sprouting anyway.

There are seven types of potatoes: russet, fingerling, white, red, yellow, blue/purple, and petit. And there are many varieties within each type. Some varieties are more disease resistant than others. Different varieties may mature at different rates. Early potatoes mature in about 80 days, and some as little as 60 days. Late-season potatoes mature in 110 days or more.

You can plant potatoes any time after the danger of a hard frost has passed – early May here. They like well drained and slightly acidic, fertile soil. Give them plenty of water but don’t let them get waterlogged. Decide when you want to harvest your potatoes and then plant them the right number of days before then. You can get two crops of very early potatoes if you replant a few from the first harvest in time to mature before frost. You can dig new potatoes of any variety as soon as the plants flower.

One of the best things about potatoes is that you can store them and eat them all winter and into spring. Select varieties that are known to store well and then plant them in time to mature in fall. When the plants die back dig up your potatoes and gently brush the soil off. Don’t wash them. Let them cure in a cool, dark area for 7-10 days. Store only unblemished potatoes. Lay them in a single layer in a box and cover them with dry vermiculite. Potatoes need humidity for
long storage and the vermiculite will absorb and lock in moisture, creating a microclimate around them. Keep them someplace where the temperature stays below 55, but doesn’t freeze. Make sure no light can get to them. A dark corner of a cellar or garage, or an insulated well-house is ideal.