25 February 2010

Buy and Treat Seed Potatoes Now for March Planting in Zone 7

Potatoes are thought to originally be from Peru because pictures of them are on ancient pottery from the area. They were prepared for storage by stomping on them and drying them for future use.

Potatoes came to North America from Europe in the 16th Century. Today, each American eats 65 pounds of potatoes every year.

In our area, potatoes are a cool season crop grown in spring and harvested in summer. Since well-drained soil is important to prevent rotting, small crops can be grown above ground in containers layered with straw, compost and soil.

Buy seed potatoes in February, so you have time to prepare them for planting. Planting time is between Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day, depending on the weather. One expert recommends waiting until it is warm enough for dandelions; another says plant when it is 50-degrees.

John Harrison of Harrison Fruit Stand said that potatoes can rot in a heavy spring rain.

"I don't plant mine until March," Harrison said. "If they come up and we have a freeze, they will die. They'll come back but not as good."

Growing potatoes in trashcans with holes drilled in the bottom, or homemade wire containers can be fun for families. It is inexpensive and entertaining to track the plants' growth.

Keep the stems covered with soil and mulch.

Grocery store potatoes have been treated to prevent sprouting. Buy only certified seed potatoes from garden supply stores or mail order sources.

Bonnie Phillips, owner of Arnold's Fruit, said that they have red, white and Yukon Gold seed potatoes available.

"Buy the seeds now and let them sprout," Phillips said. "Each one can be cut so it has one eye, plant them 3-inches deep and cover them."

To prepare for growing: Lay seeds (actually pieces of small potatoes) in a single layer, between sheets of newspaper to warm and get them to sprout.

After they sprout, cut each potato into pieces with from 1 to 3 eyes. These planting pieces can be treated with sulphur or fungicide to reduce rotting. Let them dry a week between cutting and planting.

Harrison said, "Cut them into 2-inch pieces, put them in the furrow, cover them with dirt and let them grow. I side dress them with the same nitrogen I use on the pasture."

Select a planting site with 6 hours of sun. Put the potato seed, eye up, about 5-inches deep and 6 to 12 inches apart in moist soil. Cover with 3-inches of soil and compost or mulch. In a trashcan or similar size planter, plant 4 pieces. Harrison mixes 10-20-10 into the planting soil.

As potatoes form under ground, between the seed and the leaf-stem part of the plant, they will start to show up at the top of the soil. Watch for signs of insect damage and remove them.

Add more soil and straw mulch on top to prevent potatoes from being exposed to sunlight. Do not cover stems and leaves.

Water plants regularly, until flowers appear, then stop watering. Keeping them soaked can spoil the potatoes.

The plant tops will start to die back around June and then it is time to harvest. Gently pull on the plant top and sift through the soil to find the potatoes.

They prefer acid soil so lime is not important. Potatoes need phosphorous, so look for 10-20-10 or other fertilizers with high middle numbers.

Ronnigers Potato Farm recommends adding compost to the soil and using diluted molasses as fertilizer. Combine five gallons of water with 1-cup of molasses. Apply to the potatoes 4-times as they are growing.

More information: Ronnigers http://bit.ly/9PZSnv, the Gardener Guy of Tulsa http://bit.ly/6a5MJ3, and
http://www.idahopotatoes.com.

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