Saturday, April 5, 2014

Potato Growing: Top 5 Tips!

Anyone who's compared the taste difference between vegetables you buy at the grocery story and the ones you grow yourself knows there's just no comparison: hands-down, home grown tastes best! And of all the veggies we grow at Berryridge Farm, I've found that it's potatoes that offer the biggest "yumminess" factor between store-bought and home-grown--and that includes the organic potatoes at the local food co-op.
So potatoes (that's "Irish" potatoes as opposed to sweet potatoes) are one of my must-grow crops. To my dismay, however, it's the crop I've had the least success with: voles have eaten us out of potato house and home, my timing with planting has often been way off, and in our rainy climate, late blight has ruined more crops than I care to remember. (And did I mention the voles love 'em?) So the last couple of years I've been trying some new strategies.
First off, since voles were our greatest challenge, we started growing potatoes in a boxed raised bed, with a bottom lined with hardware cloth. It's a lot of trouble and expense but totally worth it: with no vole predation, our harvests have quadrupled. Quintupled! At least!
Planting timing: I've often heard it said that you plant your potato hills on St. Patrick's Day. I concluded years ago that in the Foothills, we're still getting way to much rain to plant anything in March. So when is the optimal time to plant? I just read in Mother Earth News that you go with soil temperature. Well, who knew: you want 50 degrees minimum. Otherwise, your seed taters may just rot. (Been there, done that.) I don't have a soil thermometer, so I will improvise: in a couple of weeks I'll take a meat thermometer out to my beds and check things out! 
Blight: I finally figured out why I was getting such blighty potatoes. I was mulching them with home-grown compost. And what was wrong with my compost, you might ask? Well, I was throwing all our blighted tomatoes into the pile. All my lovely, fluffy compost was probably rife with fungus! So last summer, I didn't use the previous year's compost on the potatoes. No blight! And you can be sure that at harvest time, all our spoiled tomatoes went into a separate weed pile far from my compost.
As far as the dreaded potato "sunburn," those green spots that make your taters bitter, there's an easy solution. Mulch, mulch and more mulch. I've learned you want  to cover your hills with an ample layer of soil plus several inches of leaves, compost or any other friendly material.
One last thing: I always limed all our veggie beds since we have very acidic soil here. But here's another one of those "who knew" facts: potatoes like slightly acidic soil! So lime with caution.
If you have any favorite potato growing tips, I would love to hear from you!