The spring seed potatoes arrived last week. We ordered three of our favorite varieties of Irish potatoes, White Kennebec, Red La Soda, and Yukon Gold, all of which are reliable cultivars for the Pflugerville area. Plus they produce tasty spuds.
To prepare seed potatoes for planting, cut each potato into pieces about the size of a hen’s egg. Make sure each piece contains a healthy looking bud or eye. The eye is what will sprout and grow into a plant. The ‘meat’ of the potato will provide food for the plant until a root system is formed. (It’s not necessary to wash the seed potatoes. Leave the dirt.)
Keep the potato pieces, now called ‘seeds’, in a well ventilated area for about five days. You want the wet part of the potato to dry out or ‘heal over’ before the seed is planted. This will help prevent the seed from rotting in the ground.
There are many ways to plant a potato seed. Basically you want to get the seed deep in the ground because the new potatoes will form above the seed, but below the top of the soil. So the more space you have between the seed and the dirt level, the more space you have for potatoes to grow.
When pressed for time, Mark simply digs a trench about 10 inches deep then places the seeds 12 inches apart in the trench. Always plant seeds with the eye side up. He fills the whole trench in and calls it a day. Mark says he cuts the seeds a bit bigger than necessary if he takes this shortcut because the new plant has a long way to grow to punch through to the sunlight.
The preferred method of potato planting takes a bit more time. Dig a trench at least 3 to 4 inches deep (although I may go a bit deeper) and place the seeds 12 inches apart. No matter how deep your trench is, cover the seeds with 3 inches of soil and tamp down well. Now the plant only needs to grow 3 inches to get to the sunlight. But, as the plant grows, you have to pull dirt or mulch around the plant to make a place for the potatoes to grow. Although this method takes a little more effort throughout the growing season, it allows for easier harvest. Plus if you add soft mulch around the plant instead of soil alone, the potatoes are often smoother and have a better shape.
The old-time way of remembering when to plant potatoes in Central Texas, is to think about getting them into the ground around President’s Day. Think mid to late February. If planted too early the tender young potato plants could get hit by a frost. Potatoes take about 75 – 100 days until harvest. Plan for a late May or early June harvest.
How many pounds of seed potatoes should you get? The rule of thumb is that 1 pound of potatoes will yield about 10 seeds. Since you plant seeds 12 inches apart, 1 pound of potatoes will need a bit more than a 12 foot trench in your garden.
About the soil. Potatoes like an early feed and are relatively heavy feeders. Plant in good soil with adequate organic matter. If you use commercial fertilizer mix something like a 10-20-10 ratio into the earth beside the trench before planting. The fertilizer should not come into direct contact with the seed.
Note: Potatoes are a great project for kids. If you don’t have room for a garden, potatoes can be grown in a large pot. More on that later.