Guide to Growing Potatoes 2

Plants That Offer Nutrients

As plants grow, they take up nutrients from the soil, leaving the ground less fertile for the future crops. Gardeners have to replenish the supply by adding the necessary fertilizers or organic matter to the soil to sustain the health of plants. 

However, there are certain crops that, in addition to taking nutrients from the soil, also add certain nutrients to it, primarily nitrogen. These nitrogen fixing crops, including beans and other legumes nourish the soil, promoting the growth of their companion crops and future crops that will grow in their place. 

Bush beans, pole beans, peas and other legumes make good companions to potatoes since they add more nitrogen to the soil, improving the quality and quantity of the harvest. 

Plants That Improve Disease Resistance

Horseradish is a root vegetable that acts in a peculiar, yet beneficial way for potatoes. In addition to repelling harmful pests, including Colorado beetles, it also improves disease resistance in potatoes. 

Plants That Offer Ground Cover

Potatoes are a cool season vegetable, which means that they prefer cooler soil temperatures as compared to summer crops. If you live in a warm climate, growing cover crops in the spaces between potato hills can keep the soil cooler, for a long, comfortable growing season for your potato crop. Low growing plants, such as oregano make good ground cover. Alyssum is a good ground cover to plant with potatoes. It conserves soil moisture, keeps the soil cooler and keeps the weeds out.  

Flower Companions For Potatoes

If you want to add some color to your potato garden, it’s possible to choose flowers that will actually benefit the crop. Marigolds and petunias produce strong smells, repelling harmful insects. Nasturtiums act as a sacrificial plant, attracting pests such as aphids and potato beetles to itself so they won’t harm your potatoes. 

Bad Companions For Potatoes

While there are plants that benefit potatoes when grown nearby, there are also those that harm it. There are a number of plants that won’t work well when grown with potatoes, inhibiting the growth of either one or both of the plants. 

Bad companions of potatoes negatively impact the potato crop in a number of different ways. Here are some plants to avoid growing with potatoes:

Plants From The Nightshade Family

Potatoes belong to the nightshade family. Other members of the nightshade family include tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. Avoid growing potatoes next to other plants from the nightshade family or in fields where nightshade plants have grown during the past 2 years. 

They have similar nutrient requirements as potatoes, which means they will compete for nutrients, inhibiting their growth as well as that of potatoes. 

In addition, nightshades are susceptible to much of the same diseases and pest problems. Growing nightshades together creates the optimal conditions for pests and fungal and bacterial diseases. Ideally, you should wait for two complete years before planting another nightshade in the same bed. 

Plants that Stunt Growth Of Potatoes

There are certain plants that have been observed to stunt the growth of potato plants when grown in the same bed. These include root vegetables, such as parsnips, carrots, turnips and fennel. Asparagus also acts in a similar way. Sunflowers give off certain chemicals that slow down sprouting in potatoes and stunts the growth of potato plants growing nearby. It’s better to grow them far from your potatoes. 

Plants That Encourage Diseases In Potatoes

Other than all nightshades, there are other plants too that encourage diseases in potato crops. Fruit trees, including apples, and peaches, often attract blight, a disease that can heavily damage your potatoes. Cucumbers should be planted far from potatoes for the same reason. Other than increasing the likelihood of blight, they also compete with potatoes for water and nutrients. Sunflowers, raspberries, pumpkin and squash also encourage blight and shouldn’t be planted anywhere near potatoes. 

5. Common Insects

Potatoes are susceptible to a number of pest problems. Three of the most common ones include Colorado potato beetle, wireworms and potato leafhopper. Here’s how to identify and manage these pests and prevent heavy damages to your harvest:

Colorado Potato Beetle

Colorado potato beetle is a common and very serious pest of potato plants. Other than potatoes, it also attacks tomato, eggplant and pepper. The adult beetles overwinter in the soil, ready to emerge in spring. 

  • Description

Adult Colorado potato beetle is about the size of a fingernail. It is hemispherical in shape, orange in color and has black stripes on the back. The orange heads have black dots on them. Adult beetles typically emerge in spring, feeding on weeds and early-planted potatoes. Females lay yellow colored eggs on the undersides of leaves. Each female can lay up to 500 eggs within just a month’s time frame. The eggs hatch into reddish soft-bodied larvae. As the larvae feed, they grow bigger in size and change color to orange. 

  • Symptoms 

The larvae of the insect feed heavily on new potato leaves and flowers. If the plants are left untreated, the pests can quickly defoliate the plants. Even when the plants survive, the yield is low. 

  • Management

The pests should be managed as soon as the symptoms are first noticed. If left untreated, the larvae will damage the crop beyond repair. 

Handpick any insects that you find on the plants and either kill them by crushing, or dropping in soapy water in case you’re squeamish. Small outbreaks can easily be controlled by handpicking. 

Prune out the leaves that have egg clusters on the underside and discard them safely to prevent the spread of the larvae once they hatch. Bacillius thuringiensis is effective in controlling young larvae. It’s most effective when applied at the time of egg hatch. Even if you skip this exact stage, you should apply the strain as soon as you notice larvae on the crop. 

Chemical insecticides are also effective against Colorado potato beetles. However, the pests are known to quickly develop resistance against these chemicals. This is why gardeners often rotate between different varieties of insecticides to maintain their impact on the pest. 

Wireworm

Wireworms are soil-dwelling insects and another common problem gardeners often have to deal with when growing potatoes. If wireworms are around, they’ll heavily damage the seed pieces and tubers under the ground. Wireworms primarily feed on grass roots. Potato crops planted close to sod or in a region where there was sod during the past few seasons are at a higher risk of attracting wireworms. Here’s what you should know about these pests:

  • Description

Wireworms are the larval stage of the click beetle. The worms are about ¼ to 1 ¼ inches in length, thin, and have a smooth, shiny, yellow-brown skin. Depending on the exact species they belong to, wireworms can exist in the larval stage for 1 to 5 years before turning into adult beetles. 

  • Symptoms 

Wireworms are active in the soil, feeding on the seed pieces and developing tubers. You’ll find them when you remove the soil from around the stems. Damage is seen as holes in potatoes since the pest burrows through them while feeding. However, they don’t dig tunnels all the way through the tubers. The hole in the tubers also attracts other pathogens, reducing the quality and yield of harvest. 

You can also test for wireworms prior to planting potatoes by burying the insect’s favorite meal below the ground. You can bury potato, wheat or flour 6 to 8 inches deep into the garden bed at different spots 3 to 4 weeks before planting the actual crop. Dig up the baits in about a week and observe them for wireworms. Even if a few are present, treatment will be necessary. 

  • Management

There’s no way to manage a wireworm infestation in a growing potato crop. However, treatment is possible before planting the potatoes. You already know how you can use baits to determine if you have a problem of wireworms in your hands. 

Broadcast applications of insecticides before planting can help lower the population of wireworms. Tilling the ground prior to planting also helps expose and kill off the pests. For best outcomes, till the ground once the soil temperature is at least 50 degrees fahrenheit since the insects will be active and close to the surface at this temperature. Also, if an infestation is detected in the soil, consider planting non-host crops in the bed instead of potatoes, at least during the first few seasons.   

Potato Leafhopper

Potato leafhopper, Empoasca fabae, is an important agriculture pest. These winged insects, belonging to the Cicadellidae family, migrate each summer from southern regions, attracted to fields growing alfalfa, potato, clovers, beans, and soya beans. 

  • Description

Adult leafhopper is about ⅛ inches long, winged, pale green with a wedge-shaped body and a broad head. The head has antennas, large white eyes and 6 white spots behind the eyes. The nymphs are smaller, wingless and very quick, making them difficult to notice until the plants start to show symptoms.  

  • Symptoms 

Leafhoppers typically show their presence around June to July. The adult and the nymph stages both feed on the undersides of the leaves. With their piercing mouthparts, they suck the sap from the leaves, resulting in discoloration, known as the ‘hopperburn’. Hopperburn appears as v-shaped yellowing of the leaf tips. If the problem continues, leaf tips turn brown and fall off. Prolonged feeding results in wrinkling of leaves and stunted growth of the plant. 

  • Management

Certain varieties of potatoes are more tolerant of potato leafhoppers than others. If the pest is a persistent problem in the field, consider growing tolerant varieties, such as Yukon Gold. Leafhoppers should be controlled as soon as they are noticed. Once the hopperburn appears, the yield will already be reduced. 

Insecticides, such as neonicotinoids, are effective against the pest and often only a single application is sufficient. Organic potato growers can use pyrethrin, which is effective in reducing leafhopper population, especially that in the nymph stage.  

6. Harvesting (when, yield, & how)

When growing potatoes, the best part to look forward to is the harvest. Here’s what you should know about harvesting potatoes. 

When To Harvest Potatoes

To harvest potatoes at the right time, you’ll need to observe the foliage and flowering. New potatoes can be harvested in two to three weeks once the plants are done flowering. New potatoes aren’t ideal for storage. If you want to store potatoes, dig them from the ground two to three weeks after the foliage dies back. 

Early season potatoes typically come to harvest around mid-June, while mid-season potatoes will take a bit more time to reach maturity. They are typically ready to be dug up around July to August, depending on the climate. Late season crops come to harvest even later, from late August to October. 

Average Yield

The yield of potatoes varies with the variety and the growing conditions. When the crop receives optimal watering, fertilization and plenty of sun each day, the average yield from a pound of seed potatoes is 10 pounds. Each plant will give you around 2 pounds of potatoes in the optimal growing conditions. 

One way to increase yield is by ‘hilling’ the plants. Once the plants are around 6 to 8 inches tall, cover the stems with soil until only the top set of leaves are visible above the ground. Hill each time the plants add another 6 to 8 inches of length. The length of the stem underground will develop tubers, significantly increasing the yield. 

How To Harvest Potatoes

The soil should be dry at the time of harvesting potatoes. Any moisture in the potatoes during storage will promote the growth of fungi and spoil the produce. 

Remove the wilted tops of the plants before digging up the potatoes. Use a garden fork to dig up the potatoes rather than a shovel or a spade to keep the sharp tools from puncturing the tubers. Lift the potatoes gently, preventing any injuries to the skin. 

Check if the potatoes have fully matured. The skin of mature potatoes are tough and held firmly in place. If the skin is thin and rubs off under pressure, consider these as new potatoes. You can either use new potatoes, or if you want them for storage, leave them in the ground, covered by soil, for a few more days.  

7. Ways To Eat/Cook & Storage

How To Use Potatoes

Potatoes are probably the most versatile vegetable. There are countless ways to prepare it. You can bake them, boil and mash them, roast them, fry them, grill them or turn them into a scrumptious potato salad. They’re tasty and a favorite of all ages no matter how you cook them.

Here are some ways to cook potatoes:

Baked Potato 

  • Preheat the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Choose 7 large potatoes, wash them, dry them and pierce the skin lightly with a fork.
  • Prepare a solution with 2 tbsp salt and ½ cup water. Dip potatoes in the solution, coating evenly with salt water.
  • Transfer it to a wire rack. 
  • Place the wire rack on a baking sheet. 
  • Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes.
  • Remove them from the oven, brush them with oil and place them back in the oven to bake for another 10 minutes. 
  • Remove them from the oven and slice open the potatoes lengthwise.
  • Press the ends to open up the slit. 
  • Add your favorite topping, garnish with salt and pepper and serve!

Mashed Potatoes

  • Peel, cut and wash around 1 lbs of potatoes. 
  • Boil 1 quarts of water in a pot.
  • Add potatoes to boiling water and cook them until tender.
  • Drain the potatoes, leaving them in the colander for 2 minutes until all the water drains out. 
  • Use a fork or food mill to mash potatoes until smooth. 
  • Add 2 tbsp butter, 1/2 cup milk, seasonings and mix them evenly.
  • Serve warm!  

Storage

Fully matured potatoes are suitable for long term storage. Don’t wash the potatoes until right before using. Brush off the excess soil and allow them to sit in a single layer in a cool, dry, dark place for two weeks. This step allows the potatoes to cure, toughening the skin to help them store for longer. After curing, store potatoes in a cool, dark place, at around 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Here are some considerations when storing potatoes:

  • Keep them out of light. If exposed to light, potatoes may turn green. 
  • Keep them in a cool place. Warm temperatures encourage sprouting and diseases in storage. 
  • Make sure the storage place is a bit humid. If the surrounding air is too dry, the potatoes will dry out and wither. 
  • Never put them in airtight containers, since potatoes need ventilation even in storage. 
  • Remove any damaged potatoes since they won’t keep long in storage and may also spread the problem to the surrounding potatoes. 

Conclusion

So that’s most of it. Now you have enough knowledge to start growing your own potatoes! Plant the crop at just the right time, water it, fertilize it, and watch it grow through the season. Soon you’ll have your pantry packed with healthy, tasty homegrown potatoes!

Posted by Amaral Farms

HI and thanks for visiting my blog. I guess I would say I have always been a gardener at heart. My parents gardened and I helped them from a young age. As an adult I took to the organic movement and began gardening using almost exclusively organic methods. My focus has shifted the last decade to add heirloom gardening to the mix. By no means an expert, I do enjoy it and spend at least a few hours a week dedicated to it. I hope you enjoy and gain some value from my blog.