Raise your hand if you’re a carb addict…I mean, aren’t we all? Anyone who says they don’t like potatoes and bread must be lying, because come on, who doesn’t love that comforting starchiness?
Since I’m unable to eat most store bought and restaurant foods made with our modern day wheat, potatoes are my best friend. They’re so forgiving to make and they go with just about everything. You can eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, even snacktime! I’m probably single handedly keeping Kettle in business by how much I eat their Sea Salt and Vinegar potato chips.
Given how much of a staple they are for me, potatoes are a vegetable I knew I had to grow. Notorious for thriving when neglected, how hard could it be, right? Good news– growing potatoes is super easy and I’m going to walk you through how to do it.
WHEN TO PLANT POTATOES
Potatoes are a pretty forgiving crop. They are a cool season vegetable, and most people plant them in the late summer, for a fall or early winter harvest. This is also done with storage and cold winter months in mind. Because I’m in Zone 10b, my hot months actually fall a little later in the season than most other areas. I consider my summer July, August, and September. June in LA is awful and cold, also referred to as “June Gloom”.
Because of this, I actually prefer to plant my potatoes in the winter for an early spring harvest. I do this also because my mild weather allows me to get multiple crops in one season— there is little to no risk of frost here in LA. Another reason is because my winter sunlight SUCKS. By November/December I’m getting a measly 4 hours of direct sun because my house obstructs the light. I purposely wait until after the winter solstice so the daylight hours and sun exposure get progressively longer in my yard as my potato plants are growing. That has boded well for me in the past, but to each their own!
SEED POTATO SOURCING
Some gardeners will swear that you will only be able to grow potatoes if you use certified organic seed potatoes. While I totally support this and honestly sleep better at night knowing exactly where my food came from, I must say that’s not entirely true IF you really pay attention to where you get your potatoes. Yes, it is possible to grow potatoes from organic grocery store potatoes that have started to sprout. We’ve all had it happen where you blink and all of a sudden your potato has decided to live its best life and start growing prematurely. Instead of tossing it, let it sprout (or chit) and plant it! Just make sure it is organic, because the non-organic potatoes are often sprayed with chemicals to prevent them from sprouting. Yuck.
Last year all my potatoes were grown from organic grocery store potatoes that I let chit in my cabinet, and I got several successful harvests! This year, I thought I’d try actually using seed potatoes to see if it makes a difference in the harvest size. I got my potatoes at SeedsNow. Just like always when you grow from seed, you’ll find there are so many fun varieties of potatoes to grow if you go the seed potato route. Something to think about.
Depending on if you’re growing large (think baked potato size) or small (red potato size), you may want to cut your sprouted potato into smaller chunks. This can actually double or even quadruple the number of plants you get. The most important thing to keep in mind is to make sure that each chunk has at least 2 eyes. The eyes are the little dimples where the sprouts protrude from.
If you do decide to cut your seed potatoes, let them sit for 24 hours on your kitchen countertop until the sliced portion hardens up and dries. This will help reduce the risk of the potato rotting once you plant it.
My favorite way to plant potatoes is in grow bags. For starters, I’m limited on growing space, and second, I’m a little lazy and grow bags make harvest time super easy. Plus, they are mobile so you can move them into the best light if your space is sun deprived like mine. I recommend 10-15 gallon grow bags like these for potatoes.
- Add about 4 inches of your soil into the bottom of the grow bag— make sure your soil is a nice mixture of organic potting soil and rich organic matter like compost, worm castings etc.
- Place the seed potatoes in the soil with the eyes and sprouts facing up. Cover completely with a few inches of more soil.
- Water in
In a few days you will see the green shoots start to poke out of the soil. Potato foliage grows very quickly so you’ll want to check on it daily. When the shoots have reached 6 inches in height from the base of the soil, it’s time to hill. Hilling is when you add additional soil, covering the stalks of the plant until only the leaves are showing. Don’t cover up the leaves because remember, they need to photosynthesize for the plant to keep growing.
Hilling helps to encourage the plant to produce more tubers, and more tubers=more potatoes! Continue Hilling until the soil has reached the top of the grow bag. From there you will continue to care for the plant as normal.
A very important note about hilling— another reason we hill is because when growing potatoes are exposed to the sun, they actually turn green and become toxic. Green potatoes are a no no so be on top of your hilling!
FLOWERS AND HARVESTING
One of the reasons why people say potatoes are so easy to grow is because potatoes will actually tell you when they’re done. Amazing, right? They take the guesswork out of it! Two things happen:
- Flowers— potato plants will produce flowers, and these are an indicator that you have tubers in the soil! However, I will say I have grown potato plants that haven’t flowered and still produced tubers. That being said, my potato plants that flowered did produce better for me.
- Your foliage will die— when potatoes are done growing and the tubers are fully mature, the potato foliage will die on its own. If you’re planning on storing large amounts of potatoes for a while, it’s recommended to stop watering and let the soil dry out before harvesting. During this time the skin on the potatoes will thicken, which will help extend the life of you potatoes.
New potatoes are actually why I grow potatoes in the first place. I rarely let them fully mature to their thick skin. The term “new potatoes” refers to the young potatoes that have a thin, tender skin. And they are DELICIOUS. I’ll never forget the flavors of my first homegrown new potato harvest. They were so buttery! The other beauty of new potatoes is that you can harvest them “as needed” since the plant is still going. Simply reach into the bag and grab however many you need. The plant will continue growing and so will the potatoes you have not harvested yet.
THE FORGOTTEN POTATO
Sometimes, even with a grow bag you’ll miss a potato. Us gardeners have all experienced the forgotten potato that just sprouts on its own and grows a new potato plant! Another reason why I love the grow bags— dumping the bag out and digging for the potatoes helps prevent this. So unless you want potatoes shooting up out of nowhere year after year, make sure you dig thoroughly and harvest all of your potatoes. Yes, even those tiny little ones!
So that is how you grow potatoes! Pretty simple, right? And I promise, once you grow your own potatoes and realize how simple it is, you won’t go back to the grocery store again! Unless it’s maybe to buy a few organic ones to chit so you can grow some more 😉
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