Photo: Oxmoor House
SEASON: New potatoes are available in late spring and early summer. Mature potatoes make their appearance in late summer and fall.
CHOOSING: Look for firm potatoes that are not green or sprouting.
STORING: Place potatoes in paper or burlap bags to increase the humidity while allowing air to circulate. Store them in the coolest, darkest place in your home, such as a pantry or cabinet or in an unheated garage or basement. They’ll last three to five weeks.
GROWING: To plant potatoes, you need potatoes—but not ones from the grocery store. Instead, purchase seed potatoes that are raised carefully to be disease-free. If the seed potato is large, cut it into 1 1/4-inch pieces that each contain an eye (the bud that causes an indentation in the surface). Let the cut pieces air-dry for a day or two before planting.
Potatoes can tolerate cold soil and frosts, so plant in a sunny spot about two weeks before the last expected frost or as soon as the soil can be worked. Prepare the soil with plenty of compost to make it loose and fertile. There are a few planting options: The trench method involves setting the seed pieces 12 inches apart in a 6-inch-deep furrow, and then covering with about 3 inches of soil. Continue to bring the soil over the developing potatoes as the plant grows, always leaving the top leaves visible.
The labor-saving surface method involves pressing the seed pieces about a foot apart into a level bed until they’re almost buried, and then piling about 18 inches of leaves, straw, or other mulch on top on the bed. The mulch will settle and the potato foliage will find its way to the light. Harvesting the potatoes involves little more than pulling back the mulch and lifting the plant, potatoes attached.
You can also grow potatoes in a large container—think whiskey-barrel size. Set the seed potatoes on top of 6 inches of potting mix, and cover with a couple of inches of soil. As the potatoes grow, continue to add more potting mix and mulch until the pot is filled.
Harvesting potatoes is like digging for buried treasure. New potatoes are ready about two months after planting. For the final harvest, wait until the foliage is beginning to yellow. If you injure any potatoes with your digging fork, eat those first.