April 3, 2013

Planting Spuds

There may be only two ways to say the word "potato", but there are countless different ways to plant them in your garden and there's still time to do it in Davis this spring. Local farmers plant their potato crops in March and April, (and sometimes February if it's not too wet.) The seed potatoes I ordered back in December from Territorial Seed Co. only arrived last week; I planted two pounds on March 27th and the other two pounds are still waiting to be planted, hopefully tomorrow.

Seed potatoes

If you still want to plant potatoes you have some options. Locally, Davis Lumber (Ace) had just a few packages left as of this weekend and those were mostly Russets, which aren't the best choice for our area. (Redwood Barn had sold out.) If you don't mind ordering from a catalog, Territorial Seed is a good source, as is Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, out of Placerville. Peaceful Valley still has lots to choose from here. Yellow-fleshed types do best in our region. As a last resort, you could try planting grocery store or farmers' market spuds, but those aren't guaranteed disease free and some are sprayed to inhibit sprouting, so I wouldn't recommend going that route if you can avoid it.

Once you have your seed potatoes in hand, evaluate the size of the potatoes and the number of eyes on each one. Small potatoes (golf ball size) can be planted whole. Larger potatoes can be cut into smaller pieces as long as each piece has two or three "eyes" on it. The eyes are where the plant will start to sprout. Some people like to cure the cut potatoes for a few days to reduce the chance they will rot in the ground before sprouting, but it's not necessary.

Note the several "eyes" on this piece of potato

Potatoes can be grown in so many different ways it's impossible to list them all here. If space is a concern, a grow bag is a good choice. Having grown them in raised beds, directly in the ground, in burlap sacks, and in towers made out of tomato cages ringed with flexible fencing, I've discovered I prefer raised beds, so that's where the Yukon Golds went last week.

Seed potato pieces in a trench in a raised bed

Whatever the container, pick a spot with plenty of sunlight, or you'll end up with spindly, unproductive plants. Place the potatoes on top of at least a few inches of soil and cover them with about four inches of compost/planting mix. Make sure to plant the pieces with the eyes facing up since you want the sprouts to come up through the soil. Also make sure there's space in your bed to hill up soil or compost around the plants as they grow throughout the season. If you don't do that, you may end up with green potatoes due to exposure to the light. Finally, throw some mulch over the top of the newly planted spuds to protect the surface of the soil, reduce weeds, and retain moisture. The plants will have no problem coming up right through the straw.

Finished potato bed mulched with rice straw

There are so many reasons to grow your own potatoes. They're a great crop for getting kids excited about gardening. To a kid, sticking your arm into the soil up to your elbow, rummaging around in the dirt and pulling out handfuls of potatoes seems downright magical. It's also fun to experiment with growing varieties that you just aren't going to find in the standard grocery store. Of course, most store bought potatoes won't compare to the flavor you get with a freshly dug spud from your own garden.

Seed potatoes may seem expensive compared to your typical packet of garden seeds, but under the right conditions, one pound of seed potatoes can produce as many as ten to fifteen pounds of potatoes. I often have trouble finding reasonably priced organic potatoes in the local grocery stores, so it's nice to have a homegrown supply at a fraction of the market cost.

The good news is, if you don't have time to get any potatoes in the ground within the next two weeks, there are varieties that can be summer planted in Davis, or you can wait until fall and plant a round of potatoes then. Give it a try!


  1. I can see you are part 'Fries'. Frisians love their potatoes and only those grown in that province will do. Organic potatoes in the store are ok, but often soft. Will yours be ready to eat when we come in May??

    1. When I first read that I saw "Fries" and thought you were referencing French Fries for a moment, until I got to the next word. Ha, ha! Yes, I suppose those Dutch roots influence the desire to grow potatoes. It's possible we might have some ready at the end of May when you're here. If they aren't all ready yet, we can dig around and find some baby potatoes to cook up I'm sure.