April is the time in Wisconsin to get an early start on your vegetable garden. Besides starting seeds indoors there are several crops that can be planted outdoors right now, like growing potatoes. Potatoes are easy to grow and produce an abundant crop that keeps well. Home grown potatoes are a healthy alternative to commercial store-bought potatoes, which contain high levels of toxins as a result of being grown in fumigated soil.
Steps for growing potatoes
Start with certified disease-free seed potatoes. Our clients frequently ask us if they can start their potato crop from supermarket potatoes. We do not recommend it. Store-bought potatoes, marketed for eating, have been treated with a growth regulator to delay or eliminate sprouting and are not certified disease free. Seed potatoes, on the other hand, are grown expressly for planting. They sprout readily and are carefully monitored and inspected to be certified disease free.
Small seed potatoes can be planted whole. Cut larger seed potatoes into sections, each with at least two “eyes”, or growth points. Allow cut sections to dry at room temperature overnight to callous. This callous will protect the freshly cut surface from rotting when in contact with soil.
Growing potatoes in the ground
- Dig 6”-8” deep trenches in loose, loamy soil. Root crops will not produce well in heavy clay soil so make sure that you amend your heavy soil or use a light, commercial soil blend.
- Place seed potato sections, eyes up, in bottom of trench.
- Backfill with 4”-6” of soil.
- When top growth reach 6”-8” tall, hill soil around the stems so that only the top leaves are visible. Continue this process as the plants grow throughout the season, usually three to four times.
Potatoes are ready to harvest 3-4 months after planting. Allow the top growth to wither and die down and then gently dig up the plants with a garden fork (don’t use a spade as you may end up cutting your potatoes).
One delightful feature of potatoes is that they store for long periods if kept in a breathable bag in cool, dry conditions. This allows you to enjoy your garden harvest into the fall and winter months.
Growing potatoes in containers
We love the ease of growing potatoes in containers! It allows those who don’t have in-ground garden space to grow their own food right on their patio or deck. Our favorite method is to grow in a “Smart Pot”. These are reusable, durable, breathable containers that fold up for easy winter storage. Place several inches of a quality light soil mix at the bottom of your Smart Pot and follow the same directions as above. Our favorite part of growing potatoes in Smart Pots is the ease of harvest. Once the top growth matures you can simply dump your smart pot and hand pick out your potato harvest. Easy peasy!