Growing Potatoes

The potato (Solanum tuberosum) originated in Central America over 6,00 years ago. The Incas used potatoes of all shapes and colours, size varied from that of a peanut to a small plum.

History - Growing Potatoes - Harvesting Potatoes - Storing Potatoes - Potato Uses - Potato Pests


The potato (Solanum tuberosum) originated in Central America over 6,00 years ago. The Incas used potatoes of all shapes and colours, size varied from that of a peanut to a small plum.

Potatoes made their way to North America via Europe in the 17th century, and has become one of the most highly processed vegetables. Potato chips and french fries are known virtually world wide.

Potatoes History

Potato Chip History

Growing Potatoes

Potatoes will grow in most soils, but a rich sandy loam is ideal.

Barnyard manure is a good source of nutrients, but may encourage the development of a disease known as common scab.

Good yields demand a fertile soil, and ample water (peak growing time is July and August) up to 1 inch per week.

Excess nitrogen will stimulate top growth with few tubers below. Some research shows that an application of sulphur will reduce common scab.

It is probably best to use disease free certified seed potatoes, but people have been saving their own seed potatoes from year to year for generations.

The plant grows from the eyes found on the seed piece. Each piece should have at least two eyes. The seed can be planted whole or cut into pieces.

Each seed piece should be roughly golf ball size.

If cut the seed should be allowed to dry at room temperature for several days in order to "heal" the flesh so it is not so vulnerable to soil-bourne diseases.

Sprouts from the eyes should be longer that 1/4 inch to avoid knocking them off when planting.

Supermarket table potatoes are often treated with a sprout inhibitor and will make very poor seed.

Using larger seed pieces, will not necessarily produce larger tubers, but may have the opposite effect, as the plant feeds off the seed and does not produce underground stems on which the tubers develop.

Plant seed potatoes once the soil temperature has reached 12 degrees .

Cold, wet soils will encourage rot.

Seed pieces should be planted 3 to 4 inches deep approximately 10 inches apart with rows spaced 3 feet apart.

As the plants emerge, potatoes should be "hilled" ( the soil piled up around the plant, but not buried. Two hillings per season is recommended, this encourages rhizome production and reduces greening of tubers close to the soil surface.

There are generally three types of potatoes boiling, baking and frying, but many varieties are multi-purpose.

Red skinned potatoes are usually intended for boiling. Brown skinned potatoes are best baked or fried.

A few of the hundred of varieties available are:

Yukon Gold - yellow flesh, good keeper

Norland - an early maturing red potato.

Pontiac - main season and skin

Russet Burbank - early white potato very uniform in size

Caribe- purple skin, very white flesh, excellent keeper.

Harvesting Potatoes

"New Potatoes" can be harvested in mid summer usually a week or so after the plants have flowered. A few potatoes can be robbed from each hill, leaving the root to mature.

The main harvest occurs in the fall after the tops have been killed by a frost. Tubers should be left in the ground for at least 10 days after the tops have died down, to allow the skin to "set" to extend storage life.

Ideal harvest temperature is 10 to 15 degrees C., colder temperatures may result in excess bruising. Do not leave potatoes lying on the ground for an extended period of time, as the sun causes greening of the tubers. Cure the tubers at 15 degrees C for about a week ( spread out on a dry garage floor, or a dry shaded place).

Storing Potatoes

Long term storage should be just above freezing, dark and at 90 percent humidity, with as much air flow as possible.

Uses For Potatoes

Potatoes have generally been used for a staple in most homes. It is a vegetable that is very versatile. It can be baked, fried, boiled or grated into dishes.


The Colorado potato beetle is the major pest of potatoes.

The adult is a black and yellow orange striped beetle, which over winters in the ground, emerging to feed on the foliage. Orange eggs are laid in bunches on the underside of the leaves.

The larvae are red to pink, fleshy, with a black head and dots running along their back.

If infestations are high, plants can be defoliated in a few days.

Adults and larvae can be hand picked, and the eggs squashed, but the usual course of action is to use any of the register pesticides.

Wireworm damage shows up as small holes in the potato, as though it had been punctured by a needle. No effective control for wireworms is available. Potatoes should be rotated out of the infected area.

Common Scab - scab like lesions on the tuber, caused by naturally occurring organisms in the soil (does not effect the edibility of the potato). Supply ample water throughout the season and do not leave potatoes in the ground for so long, after the tops die down.

Bacterial Soft Rot - soft mushy tubers with a foul odor.

Potatoes which have been frozen or stored wet are prone to soft rot.

Early Blight - foliar disease, small black lesions on the plant tissue forming concentric rings within the dead tissue. High humidity and leaf surface moisture increase spread of early blight.

Late Blight- more serious than early blight, brownish black lesions on foliage, yellow halo surround lesions, white cottony "mold" forms on the underside of the leaves. Potatoes will not keep. Very devastating disease (caused the Irish potato famine)

Potatoes with "dirt" or "tar" on their skin that doesn't wash off are infected by a fungus "Rhizoctonia Solane", tubers are ugly, but completely edible and sore well.

Most diseases and pests are soil bourne so a three year rotation is recommended.

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