Sun’s out, spuds’ out: Here’s how you can grow your own organic potatoes at home.
(Article republished from Food News). With its ability to be prepared in a myriad of ways — mashed, fried, made into chips and pancakes — no other vegetable can hold a candle to the humble potato when it comes to versatility.
Aside from its versatility, the potato is also one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, with a single spud packed full with carbohydrates, protein and dietary fiber, as well as vitamins and essential minerals.
Because of this, it’s not surprising to know that many have since tried planting their own potatoes, whether in outdoor vegetable patches or indoors in container gardens.
What makes potatoes so special?
Despite their unassuming appearance, potatoes are actually nutrient powerhouses. Each spud stuffed with health-promoting phytonutrients and antioxidants such as carotenoids, flavonoids and caffeic acid.
Also, potatoes contain large amounts of vitamin C, which also acts as an antioxidant. These are natural substances that may prevent or stave off oxidative cell damage caused by free radicals. They may also help with digestion, heart health, blood pressure and even cancer prevention.
Other important minerals and vitamins that are present in potatoes include:
- Potassium: The predominant mineral in potatoes, potassium is linked to optimal heart health, as well as optimal nerve and muscle function. It is mostly concentrated in the skin.
- Folate: A type of B vitamin, folate is needed for cell growth and development, as well as the production of red blood cells.
- Vitamin B6: Linked to maintaining optimal neurological health, vitamin B6 is found in both the potato’s skin and its flesh.
Because of its nutrient-dense nature, it’s not surprising to learn that potatoes have been linked to several health benefits such as the following:
- Improvements in blood sugar levels
- Improvements in cardiovascular function
- Improvements in digestive function
How does one get started with planting potatoes?
The development of potatoes, just like all other crops, are dependent on several factors such as the condition of the soil they are to be planted in, the ambient temperature and the amount of sunshine they will receive. This means that aspiring potato growers must be able to provide optimal conditions if they are to grow properly.
With this in mind, here’s how you can have a steady supply of organic potatoes, right in the comfort of your own home:
Choose the right potato.
Pick potatoes according to their growth period. As noted by farmers, potatoes are classified according to the length of time they take to mature.
For instance, early seed potatoes such as Pentland Javelin, Arran Pilot and Dunluce, mature in about 60 to 110 days. When planted towards the end of March, they are typically ready for harvesting by late June or early July.
Maincrop seed potatoes such as King Edward, Kerrs Pink and Harmony, meanwhile, mature in about 125 to 140 days. This means that if you plant these varieties in late April, you’ll have spuds ready for harvesting by mid-August through to October.
Once you’ve picked the variety you want to grow, you can order in some seed potatoes from your local organic farmer. Not only will you be assured of the variety you’re getting, you’ll also be assured of their quality.
Prepare the seed potatoes for planting.
Using a sharp, non-serrated knife, slice your seed potatoes into rough quarters, making sure that each piece has “eyes” or small pits or indentations on its surface.
Place the cut pieces in the sun and let them sit for about a day or two. You would also want the cut sides to “heal” and form a dry “skin” or “callus” over the cut area, which will discourage rotting. You can speed up this process by dusting the cut sides with some ground cinnamon.
Prepare the soil.
Potatoes are very adaptable and will grow anywhere, be it a patch of land out in your garden or a large container on your patio — just make sure that your soil is well-draining and as weed-free and nutrient-rich as possible. This can be done by mulching your potato patch or container garden and by amending your soil with some well-rotted organic compost.
When planting potatoes outdoors, make sure to plant your crops in a different part of your garden each year. Doing this means the soil can “rest” for one season and replenish its nitrogen content.
Also, make sure to loosen up the soil before planting, as potatoes will not grow in hard or compact soil.
Pick an appropriate time for planting in your climate.
Potatoes, as noted by the Old Farmer’s Almanac, prefer cooler weather.
This means that if you live in the Northern regions, you can plant the first crop of early-maturing potatoes in early to mid-April, or about eight weeks before the average last frost date.
Those in the South, meanwhile, can grow potatoes as a winter crop and plant these from September to February.
Pick a sunny spot in the garden or porch.
When selecting a location for your potato patch or container garden, make sure you choose an area that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. This is because while potatoes prefer cool weather, they will need lots of direct sunlight to grow properly.
Planting the potatoes.
Before planting the prepared seed potatoes, dig four-inch deep trenches in your patch, making sure that these are about 12 inches apart. This will give them enough space to grow.
Plant a seed potato every 12 inches or so in the trenches, making sure that their “eyes” are all facing upward. Cover each potato with a mix of soil and compost. Cover them with straw or leaves, “hilling” the material up as the potatoes grow
“Hilling” involves gently filling the trench with a few inches of soil, leaving only the top of the plant exposed, once the potatoes have sprouted. This process protects the potatoes from the sun, as well as supports the plant.
Repeat this process for several weeks, or until the soil is mounded up 4 to 5 inches above ground level. It is important that you do not skip this part, as potato tubers can turn bitter and inedible when exposed to sunlight.
Once the potato plants have emerged, add organic mulch between the rows. Doing so will help conserve moisture, stave off weeds and cool the soil.
Practice restraint when watering your plants, as potatoes only need an inch or so of water per week. If you water too much right after planting and not enough as the potatoes begin to form, the tubers can become misshapen.
Harvesting and storing the potatoes.
Regular potatoes are ready to harvest when their foliage begins to die back. However, the process not as simple as digging up everything in one go.
Once you see the plants beginning to die back, you should first cut off the brown foliage, leaving the potatoes for 10 to 14 more days in the ground before harvesting them. This allows the potatoes to develop a thick skin, which is important for long-term storage.
Once you do harvest the potatoes, leave them in a dry, cool and dark place for up to two weeks. This allows their skins to cure, which will help them keep for longer.
Once the potatoes have cured, brush off any soil clinging to their skins. Do not, under any circumstances, wash the potatoes as this will shorten their shelf life.
Potatoes are best stored at cool temperatures, as warm temperatures can encourage sprouting. In addition, the storage area must also have high humidity, as potatoes are prone to drying out.
Avoid all light to prevent greening. The location must be dark or use dark-colored, perforated plastic bags with many holes cut in the side to allow for air movement.
Potatoes are some of the most versatile and nutrient-packed foods on the planet. It’s a good thing then that these wonderful root crops can be easily grown at home.
Just follow the tips mentioned in this article so that you can quickly get your fill of health benefits and nutrition from potatoes and other fresh, homegrown organic superfoods.
Read more stories about how to grow organic foods at OrganicFarming.news.