Whether you are growing potatoes in your backyard or for a market garden there are a few tips the team at Edmonton Potato Growers would like to share with you. Detailed recommendations vary between varieties, these are just general guidelines. Potatoes are an easy crop to grow in your garden and store well for months of eating enjoyment!
Selecting Seed: Always plant certified seed potatoes, which are available at greenhouses and garden centres. Certified seed potatoes are disease-free and will produce the largest crop of potatoes. The potatoes you saved from last year or get at the supermarket might seem healthy, but these should not be used for planting as they are susceptible to disease. Please refer to the VARIETIES section of our website for detailed information about each variety we offer to help you decide which varieties you would like to plant.
Location: To prevent disease, choose a location for your potato plants where potatoes, tomatoes and peppers have not been planted for at least two years, preferably up to four years. Avoid planting potatoes and tomatoes near each other to prevent Late Blight. Potatoes should be planted in full sun; that's an area that gets at least 8 hours of sun per day.
Timing: In Alberta you can plant your seed potatoes when the soil begins to warm up and can be easily worked, usually in mid April. Make sure the soil is not wet or soggy, you will get the best crop when you plant in light, loose, well drained soil. Two weeks before planting, expose your seed potatoes to warmth and lots of light to encourage the eyes to sprout.
Starting: While seed potatoes may be planted whole, usually they are cut into smaller chunks called “sets’". When you cut the chunk, each piece should have 2 - 3 eyes on it. It is preferable if the eyes have strong shoots (sprouts) on them when planted – these are the start of the sprouts. Before planting the sets, many gardeners let them air out a day or two in a dry place so the freshly cut areas can dry up a bit.
Planting: When planting the sets, the cut side should face-down into the soil with the eyes/sprouts facing up. Choose one of the following three methods of planting:
Trench Method: A traditional potato planting method involves digging one or more shallow trenches, about 6" deep. You’ll want to space trenches about 1 meter (3 feet) apart. Place the seed potatoes in the trench, eyes facing up. You then cover the potatoes with a couple of inches of soil. As the potato plant grows, soil is continually hilled up along the sides of the plants. This keeps the soil around the developing tubers loose and keeps the surface tubers from being exposed to sunlight, which will turn them green and somewhat toxic. Hill soil whenever the plants reach about 4-6" in height.
Scatter Method: Some gardeners prefer to simply lay the seed potatoes right on the soil and then cover them with a few inches of mulch. You can continue laying mulch as the plants grow. If you have a rodent problem, this method is probably not your best choice.
Container Method: Potatoes are so easy to grow that they can be planted in bags, boxes, baskets, garbage cans and tire stacks. The container method makes hilling easy and takes up less space. Plant 3 - 4 seed potatoes in the bottom of the container, like a clean garbage can. Put about 6" of soil in the bottom first, then spread out your seed potatoes. Keep adding soil as the plants get taller – this will ensure a larger harvest of tubers later on when harvest time arrives. As the plants grow, soil, straw or leaves should be hilled up around the growing stems. The bottom part of the plants and any tubers need to stay covered to avoid exposure to the sun.
Growing: You can grow potatoes in your home, outside,
in a greenhouse, or start off inside and move them outside
as the weather gets warmer.
Inside: Place the container somewhere with as much light
as possible. Turn the bucket regularly so the plant grows straight,
and keep the soil moist.
Outside: Grow your plants in full sunlight - if frost is forecast, bring
the plants inside or protect them with plastic, a blanket or straw.
In a greenhouse: If it's frosty, close all windows. If it's very sunny,
make sure the greenhouse is well ventilated and doesn't overheat.
Pests: Potato plants can be infected by fungus and pests that can not only cause serious damage to your crop but can also spread over the wind and through soil and water. Late Blight is a serious issue in which fungal pathogens spread appressively through your potato crop causing the plants to die. Tomato plants can be a source and carrier of Late Blight, therefore it is recommended that you plant tomatoes as far away from your potato crop as possible. Late Blight can be identified if the leaves of your plants have dark, water soaked or mouldy looking spots. Also be on the lookout for the Colorado Potato Beetle - a brightly coloured yellowish pest often found on potato plants. Check the plants very often for signs of these beetles and dispose of them as soon as possible.
Care: Keep potato plants well watered, especially when they start flowering. The soil should be moist, not dry, but avoid over-watering. If the plant's leaves turn yellow and start to die, cut back the amount that you are watering. It is preferable to water potato plants near the ground to avoid getting water on the leaves which can be a source of Late Blight. Apply home garden fungicides recommended for prevention of Late Blight when conditions are favorable. Do not over-fertilize as this results in heavier tops and poor air flow which can attribute to Late Blight. If you suspect potato plants of having Late Blight promptly destroy and dispose of them by first pulling a large dark plastic bag over the plant. Cut the plant off at ground level and tie the bag, then put the bag in full sunlight so that the contents will be killed by the heat from the sun. Once the plant is dead, the fungus is also destroyed and the bag can be discarded with regular garbage. Once the affected vines and leaves have been destroyed, the potatoes can be dug and eaten, but better to eat them soon, as they will not store.
DO NOT pull affected plant because this process can dislodge spores into the air where they can be wind-borne to neighbouring plantings.
DO NOT put affected potatoes in the compost pile because if they survive the winter, new sprouts from these potatoes could be the source of inoculum next season.
Harvest: Potatoes can be harvested whenever they become large enough to eat. Approximately a month after planting, the tubers in the ground will be small "baby" potatoes, which you can harvest. To harvest a few potatoes without disturbing the entire plant, dig away some of the soil around the hill with your hand and pull some tubers off at the roots. The entire crop is ready to harvest at full size once the tops of the plants die off, usually in about 3 - 4 months after emergence of the first plants. You can leave the potatoes in the ground for a few weeks longer, as long as the ground is not overly wet. Leave harvest potatoes outdoors in a shaded area to dry for a few hours after harvesting and before storing.
Storage: Store potatoes in a cool, dark, well ventilated place. Warm temperatures encourage potatoes to sprout and shrivel. However, never store potatoes in the fridge. Properly dried and stored potatoes can last in storage for up to six months depending on the variety.