And now we’re going to get into growing seed potatoes in raised beds. This is going to be a little bit different approach, after all, we’re dealing with a crop that is a tuber….meaning you’ll be harvesting it underground. It’s a different ballgame if you’re used to seeing your fruits flourish above the soil, so you have to have a good plan when you go in.
After all, if you can’t see your fruit, you’ll have to know the signs. In this post we’ll get into the nitty gritty of growing spuds….one of the most versatile veggies out there.
Pin Me, Garden Buffs
Around the first week in April we stopped at a local feed store and bought seed potatoes among some other types of seeds…Started planting them a week later, I’ll be walking you through all we did, and in what order. So let’s dive in now.
Types of Potatoes to Grow
They take longer than some of the other crops I discuss on here, as a tuber, you can anticipate a longer germination period. Some are longer than others. Luckily there are over 100 different varieties to choose from and you could select from the shorter period ones. I personally like the Red and Gold varieties the best – they are more flavorful, less starchy (for those of you into counting carbs or concerned with things like the glycemic index) more so than the “white” varieties.
Red-skinned potatoes – the skin tends to be thinner, and the gold or yellows, have a nice buttery flavor, they are creamy/ivory in color. Here are some examples of different potatoes and their growing season lengths estimated.
- Shorter (-Early Season) take about 75-90 days, and include Norland and my favorite, the Yukon Gold.
- Midrange (about 95-110 days) Red Pontiac, Catalina, and Yukon Gem.
- Late Season – About 135 days -that’s about five months if you give or take, and include the Butte, Carola, Kenebec and Purple Peruvian (yes, there are potatoes with purple skins!
But First, Chitting…
Now we’re going to talk about the prep work involved. It can be summed up in one word: “Chtting” – which is derived from an old 17th century term that translated from “shoots” In a nutshell, you will be selecting your seed potatoes and isolating them in a compartment so they can be pre-sprouted prior to planting. You know how many potatoes have “eyes” well that’s a sign of how they can be sprouted. If these telltale spots aren’t apparent, they won’t be able to germinate well.
The best way to do this is to gather all your spuds and put them in some kind of compartment – an egg carton or seed starter tray can work well, or if you’re like me and you save those cardboard drink holders some fast food places offer, those work too. Place your potatoes in each slot. The “blunt” end of each tater should be facing upward. Keep them in a location away from direct sunlight. The temperature of the room should be consistent and humidity level moderate.
When you see eyes develop, you’re on the right track. They should be short and stubby looking. If they’re gangly looking that’s not a good sign. If any of them end up looking moldy, ditch them.
Planting Seed Potatoes
There’s a unique strategy to planting seed potatoes that must be followed..after all potatoes are tubers, unlike most of the crop plants I’ve talked about on here. There are several takes on this strategy, but I’m sharing what you need to do particularly when you have elevated beds. This methodology is called the “trench” method. There is a certain depth that is considered ideal for planting – it’s important to stick to that threshold.
Dig a trench in the middle of the bed -they should be three feet apart. Plant each seed spud about 8-10″ apart from each other in a trench that is at least 4-5″ deep. This depth is important because if the potatoes are planted too deep, they could be susceptible to rot, too shallow, and there’s the potential they could become green – which is problematic because “green” potatoes contain high amounts of solanine, the compound present in nightshade vegetables – and consumption of it could make you very ill.
There’s a few exceptions to this rule – but they apply to other methods of gardening. For now we’re focusing on raised bed strategies. Now if you look at our handiwork, we didn’t dig a straight trench, it’s actually triangular (yes, a little family secret, should I be giving it away?)
Be sure the eyes of the potatoes are facing upward when you plant them. Planting pieces instead? With the exception of small potato varieties (like “new” potatoes) you can cut them in half and as long as they have at least two eyes sprouting, they are viable enough to be planted and grown. Be sure to plant the pieces, again, with the eyes facing upward in the ground.
For awhile, I’d forgotten when and which bed we’d planted them in…and then I saw the telltale green stems and asked what they were. I was told they were the potatoes. I had no idea. They may take awhile to take off, but when they do – wow. The last week of May most of the plants were up to my hip – about two feet in height.
Some of them are sprouting white flower blossoms, too This is the typical growth trajectory. They will not be ready to check just yet so hold on to your hats. Remember I said they take at least 75 days to reach maturity, and that’s the short season types.
Eventually, the white blossoms (left image) will drop, and you’ll notice the foliage will be starting to turn yellow. This is perfectly normal and a sign of maturing, so don’t freak out. You may also see what looks like little teeny green tomatoes (bottom right) – another sign that harvest time is not too far away. Are you excited? You should be!
The Importance of Hilling
Periodically – about every couple of months, it is a good idea to practice hilling. This means bulding up a mound of soil around your plants as they grow, enough so that there’s about perhaps 10″ of the plant exposed. Using mulch can be helpful for this as it will help with drainage too. Hilling will shield your potato plants from excessive sunlight, they need to be in darker conditions to produce.
If they end up getting sunburned, it increases the chance the potatoes will be green and contain too much solanine. If there’s a small amount of green on a potato, it can be peeled off – I’m just talking about potatoes turning actual green which renders them not good for consumption.
And now the part you’re the most excited about (but I hope you didn’t forget the importance of the prior steps.) The signs to look for when your potato crop is ready to start digging up. The white blossoms will drop in about a week, and the foliage will start turning yellow. If it’s still green, let it be.
When you see the signs and you’re ready to dig, what should you use? A small shovel works good, be sure you use something that won’t tear or disrupt the roots of nearby plants or this one either.
We finally started to harvest our spuds and surprise, surprise – we didn’t actually need any tools. However, we did have to be careful not to disrupt the nearby turnip crops (in the middle.) We started with a “test” pull, and from there, it was all gravy…A few of the new potatoes were in the ground, the rest were on the roots…some were tiny and some medium sized (you can read my story here – excited !! 😁)
You will also find that the original seed potato (or piece) will still be intact, you can tell which one it is as it will be darker in color, you may not recognize it right away, I know I didn’t.
Store your freshly picked taters in a cool dry location, do not wash them until you are ready to prep and cook as it can introduce moisture that could lead to fungal growth. You can see how our batch here still has the dirt residue left.
Congrats, you have learned how to grow some potatoes from seeded spuds in your own garden. Way to go! Now, knowing how versatile they are, what are you planning to do with your stash?