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Starting a vegetable garden is always a good idea, especially if you have space. Potatoes are both stable in the garden and the kitchen, so you can never go wrong with adding potatoes to the garden. But although they don’t require much in the way of care and are undoubtedly hardy, potato crops often fail when the gardener doesn’t understand potatoes.
There are a few factors to consider when starting a potato crop and a few things you need to be aware of, particularly what potatoes get from sunlight.
Understanding potatoes and sunlight
Potatoes don’t like sunlight, but they sure do love heat. To grow a healthy crop of potatoes, you’re going to have to ensure your batch is deep enough to avoid direct sunlight but high enough to get that incredible heat. This is why potatoes should be grown during the cooler months, like autumn. The sun isn’t too bright, but they can still soak up some heat.
A good time for the Northern hemisphere is usually early to mid-April. But this depends on the temperature of the soil.
If a potato does end up getting too much sunlight, it will turn green, which can be toxic when consumed. So before you plant your crops, be sure to check how deep your potatoes need to be and how much aftercare they will need to ensure perfect potatoes.
Preparing your potatoes for planting
Before you plant your potatoes in the garden, your seedlings will need to be exposed to sunlight to give them a boost. Put them in an egg container (don’t let them touch, and be sure to provide them with a hole at the top to sprout through) and place them in the windowsill to soak up some indirect sunlight – around 50-degree Fahrenheit. This will help them grow quicker.
Some potatoes will produce quite a few sprouts; when this happens, remove the excessive shoots. More nodes will mean more energy wasted. Rather only keep one or two of them to ensure your potato will grow big.
When is the right time to plant a potato?
You don’t want your potatoes to be cold, so around 1 to 2 weeks after the last Spring frost should be ideal. You should also check the temperature of the soil. The temperature overall won’t do you much good, as your plants won’t be exposed to the wind and air, but rather to the soil.
If the soil is 50 degrees Fahrenheit and staying steady, it’s the perfect time to plant your potatoes!
How deep should you plant a potato?
A 6-inch wide and 8 eight-inch deep trench will be perfect for potatoes. Anything deeper and the potato will be too cold, anything shallower and it will soak up the sun and end up green and toxic. Potatoes grow pretty fast, so be sure to stand ready with some soil to cover up the potato once a week or so to ensure it remains nice and toasty. This is called hilling and we’ll cover it a bit later.
Also, be sure to get some compost and mulch, both of these will come in handy when planting and taking care of your crops.
How to plant my potatoes?
Potatoes do require some aftercare when you’ve planted them, although they’re certainly not high maintenance they do require some care to ensure they grow well.
Now let’s get into the meat of it. How deep to plant your potatoes for a successful harvest.
- Plant them around 3 feet apart
- Make sure the soil is loose and well-drained.
- The spot you pick should get at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun every day. The more the better.
- Add some manure (rotted compost) to the bottom of the trench.
- Plant your seedling potatoes cut side down around 3 feet apart.
- Cover them up with around 4 inches of soil.
- 12 – 14 days after the potatoes have been planted, they should start to sprout. Cover this up with around 3 to 4 inches of soil.
- Do this again in a few weeks and make sure your potatoes each have a hill of around 4 – 5 inches above the ground.
- Once the potato plants have emerged you can then start adding some mulch in between the rows of your crops.
What is Hilling?
Hilling is the most important part of growing a potato. In simple terms, it is the act of adding ground around the stem of the potato to ensure its tubers (the potato) are not exposed to much sun and turn green.
The best time to do hilling is early in the morning when the plant is standing straight. Later in the day, some plants might actually begin to droop.
Water is extremely important when hilling. Potatoes need a constant amount of water, around 1 – 2 inches per week to ensure it does not begin to grow malformed. Consistency is key.
When to harvest potatoes
The biggest problem when planting potatoes is knowing when to harvest. Because you can’t technically see the potato, it’s more difficult to determine when it’s ready for the pot. So here is a quick guide on when you should harvest them.
There is a wide range of potato species. Regular potatoes are usually ready when the top foliage begins to die. Depending on the type of potato you have, be sure to double-check when you should begin to harvest them. But for regular old potatoes, here is a quick guide:
- Cut off the brown foliage.
- Leave for another 10 days (if the soil is wet, rather remove earlier)
- Harvest potatoes when you have a dry day. If they are wet, be sure to dry them out before putting them into bags.
- Remove them carefully and try not to break the tubers or hurt the skin.
- Once they are removed, quickly move them to a place where the sun isn’t too bright. Leaving a potato in the sun will quickly turn it green.
Planting potatoes can be a joy, but it won’t be much of one if you don’t take the time to understand your plants. Which is the case with all plants.
Potatoes love being warm, but they sure don’t like sunlight. If you’re careful with your first batch you’re sure to have some spectacular potatoes in a month or so. Just be sure to add that earth to the base of the plant, put some mulch in between the rows and keep the water coming. If you’re consistent and mindful of the sun, your potatoes will be the best in the county!