Growing Potatoes (excerpted from Crockett’s Victory Garden)
Potatoes like full sun and a light, sandy soil. They also want an acid soil, so keep the potato area free of lime.
Potatoes are grown from sections of mature potatoes, but those bought in a grocery store may not work; these are often treated with a sprout-inhibitant to keep them salable longer. I buy certified seed potatoes from a garden center so I can rest assured that I have untreated potatoes of varieties that I know can be successfully grown in my area.
I could just plant the whole potato, but I can get more for my money, and a larger yield, by cutting the potato into sections about the size of an egg, making sure each section has two or three eyes. I plant each of these sections separately, and each will produce a strong potato plant.
Before the sections go into the ground I dip them in sulfur or captan (fungicides) to prevent rotting of the cut surfaces. Then I leave them exposed to the sunshine and air for 3 or 4 days. This dries out the cut surfaces as a further precaution against rotting when the sections hit the cold, damp soil of early spring.
I dig a flat-bottomed trench 6 to 8 inches wide and 4 to 5 inches wide. Then I sprinkle in 3 good handfuls of 5-10-5, an excellent potato fertilizer, in a 15-foot row and scratch it into the soil so it won’t be in direct contact with the potato sections. I put the potato sections in, cut sides down, about a foot apart in the trench and cover them with about 3 inches of soil. As the plants grow, I’ll pull soil in from the trench to keep the plants cool, a procedure known as hilling or mounding.
When the potatoes break through the soil and are about 6-8 inches tall, they’re ready for their first hilling-up. First I scatter 5-10-5 fertilizer on the ground on both sides of the potato row at the rate of 2 handfuls to a 10-foot row. Then I pull 3 or 4 inches of soil in from the sides of the trench to cover the stems of the plants, covering the fertilizer at the same time. This feeds the plants, keeps their roots deep in the cool soil, and kills weeds. It also eliminates any chances that the young potatoes forming on the roots will be exposed to light, which causes the skin of potatoes to turn green.
In another month or so, the plants show the first signs of yellowing leaves, and that’s an indication that the harvest is on the way. When all the leaves have yellowed and the foliage is withered and dry, the potatoes will be ready for harvest. But if you want to harvest some new potatoes, about 2 weeks after the potato blossoms appear, there will be a crop of small potatoes underground. All I do is scratch away at the soil with my hands until I find the potatoes and pull them out. They range from kumquat-sized to lemon-sized. Later (around August), when the foliage has died down entirely, carefully dig about 1 foot out on either side of the center of the row, using a 4-tined spading fork. After digging them, leave the potatoes to dry for several hours before storing in a dark, cool place.