How To Grow Seed Potatoes

Potato plant just coming into flower

Growing seed potatoes can be an important contribution to your long-term survival food supply.

Potatoes have some important characteristics as a survival food:

  • They provide and abundance of calories and nutrition
  • They can be stored long-term under the right conditions
  • They can be re-planted from stores
  • They are not difficult to grow
  • They will produce an abundant crop even in a cold climate

You can read more about those qualities in Planning a survival garden

When To Plant Seed Potatoes

You can plant potatoes once the danger of hard frost is passed in the spring. You can check your last spring frost date here

We usually do two plantings; one in early-mid May for fresh eating new potatoes and one around the end of June for storage.My later planting is about twice as large as the earlier one.

I grow only red potatoes since I prefer their taste and texture. Good choices for the early planting include Red Norland and Chieftain; the later planting  could be  Red Pontiac or Ida Rose for storage. All of these have produced abundantly for me.

If you decide to pre-sprout your potatoes, you'll want to put your seed potatoes out in a single layer in a cool lighted spot. This will encourage strong shoots. Do this about 2 weeks before you plan to plant.

Note: I've planted both with and without pre-sprouting, and, as long as you use good seed potatoes with visible eyes, I can't say it makes a difference.

One or two days before planting, cut each seed potato into sections, making sure each section has a couple good eyes.

Lay the cut potato sections out in a tray in a single layer to dry a bit before planting.

Cut sections of seed potatoes ready for planting

Planting Your Seed Potatoes

Plant your potatoes in a site with full sun, and deep soil.  I till the ground thoroughly, then use the hiller-furrower attachment on my rear-tine tiller to shape the bed and make a furrow.

I have tried surface planting potatoes using mulch hay to cover them deeply, but I found the yield was greatly reduced.

I buy five pounds of seed potatoes for each variety I plant. This will usually fill a 50-foot row for each type.

The second planting  yields about 100 lbs. from each row, for storage. We don't eat that much ourselves, but we barter some with a neighbour that grows great winter squash, and we keep some back for re-planting.

I space my furrows 5 feet apart to allow lots of room for hilling up the spuds. I can also quickly run the tiller down the rows to chew up the weeds, and loosen soil.

I add a layer of well-composted manure to the bottom of the trench and mix it in.

I plant the seed potato pieces about 14 inches apart in the furrow; a garden rake makes a good measuring device. This is further apart than many books suggest, but my experience suggests I get larger spuds at this spacing.

Cover the potatoes with a couple inches of soil. In the spring, the ground usually has enough moisture to promote growth. Plantings later in the season, or in very dry soil, should be watered in.

Suzie doing all the work as usual ;-)

How To Care For Your Potato Planting

Once your potatoes are well up, hill them using a garden hoe. I usually run the tiller close to the plants first to loosen the soil and kill weeds.

Bury the plants right to the top leaves. Potatoes grow off the stalk, so more hilling equals more potatoes.

We will run the sprinkler once a week if we don't receive any rain.

You can control potato beetles by hand picking (catch the bugs, drown them in soapy water, and squash any eggs or larvae you see on the leaves) or by using floating row cover.

We have found that our second planting rarely suffers from potato beetles; I suspect we stumbled on a way to beat them based on their life cycle.

Spuds ready for first hilling
After a couple hillings

How To Harvest And Store Your Potatoes

You can dig new potatoes once the plants have finished flowering. New potatoes are for fresh eating, they won't store well.

Dig your main crop once the plants have started to die back in the fall. Dig in dry weather, using a garden fork to lift the soil carefully without spearing the spuds.

To store your spuds long-term, brush off excess dirt carefully; don't wash them. Store only the undamaged potatoes.

You want to cure them for a couple weeks at about 50F (10C). Lay your potatoes out in a single layer, in a dark location. A cool basement would work if you can exclude light. After a couple weeks you can move then to their permanent storage.

I have a heavily-insulated cold room in an outbuilding to store my potatoes, garlic, onions, and carrots. I can do curing and long-term storage in the same location because I can control the light, temperature and humidity

Once the spuds are cured, I maintain the temperature between 36-40F (2-4C), and I keep a pan of water in the room in front of the heater to help keep humidity high.

My cold room has an A/C for the fall and a heater for the winter to prevent freezing

I have lots of space, so I store my potatoes in trays in a single layer. This makes it easy to check for spoiled spuds.

You can store them in bins, but check regularly for any that are sprouting or beginning to spoil.

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