Fresh spuds, harvested from your backyard and then baked until tender, are the ultimate comfort food. Fun fact: potatoes aren't actually roots, they are enlarged underground stems called tubers. Whatever they are, growing potatoes is especially rewarding because they’re so easy. You can practically plant them and forget them until it’s time to dig up some dinner. There's a wealth of potato varieties from delicious fingerlings to large russets, and several colors to choose from.
Potato Care Must-Knows
Potatoes thrive alongside most other vegetables. However, because they're closely related to tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, it's best not to plant any of these crops right next to each other as they attract the same pests.
These plants don't mind a little cool weather, so you can get them in the ground a couple of weeks before your area's last expected frost date. Plant potatoes in a spot that sees full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun) and has moist, well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter.
If you don't want to dig holes, one classic way to grow them is to loosen the soil, place them on the prepared spot, then cover them with a few inches of soil. After the plants have grown about a foot tall, mound about 6 inches of soil or compost up around them, then top-dress with a little more every couple of weeks until the plants start to bloom.
Potatoes develop best in rich soil; if your soil has a high clay content, add plenty of organic matter such as compost, peat, or coir at planting time or grow them in raised beds or deep container gardens.
Watch for pests, including Colorado potato beetle. If you catch pests early, you can usually prevent a severe outbreak. Prevent disease problems by rotating your crops—that means avoiding planting potatoes in the same spot where you grew them, tomatoes, eggplants, or peppers the year before. Plant potatoes with cabbage plants since the two prefer the same growing conditions and don't attract the same pests. Or plant them with marigolds—flowers that attract beneficial insects that can help protect your potatoes from pests. Marigolds produce edible flowers you can use in salads or as a garnish with potato dishes.
Begin harvesting as early as 6-8 weeks after planting when tubers are 1 to 2 inches in diameter, if you want your own gourmet baby potatoes. Just carefully dig next to stems with a small garden fork. For the main harvest, wait to dig the tubers until plant tops start to die back on their own. Place undamaged tubers in a dark humid location at 65°F to 70°F for two weeks to cure before storage. For long-term storage, keep cured tubers in the dark at 40°F to 50°F.
New Types of Potatoes
Plant breeders are always working on new varieties of potatoes that resist disease better, have increased yields, are more nutrient dense, or have a shorter growing season. Pay attention to the attributes of the different varieties, new and heirloom, to ensure you're growing the type that's best for you.