Seed potatoes are a great way to start your own potato crop. They’re easy to grow and provide a tasty harvest.
To get the best yield, you’ll need to plan your planting time carefully. Prepare the soil and make sure your tubers are in good condition before you plant them.
Ideally, you should plant your seed potatoes in the spring, when soil temperatures are warm enough to encourage root growth. However, this isn’t always possible.
To ensure you’re planting the right potatoes, use certified disease-free seed. These are available at home improvement, farm, and garden supply stores as well as online.
Before you plant, cut the seed pieces into 1- to 2-inch squares with two to three eyes (bud sprouts) per piece. Be sure to weigh the potatoes as this will determine the number of potatoes you’ll need for each planting.
After planting, mound extra soil around the stems every few weeks to help keep the plants from burying themselves too deeply. This practice is called hilling and it will boost your potato yield.
Soil preparation is the key to successful planting of seed potatoes. Potatoes are root crops and require well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter (compost, aged manure or leaves) and a high pH.
A soil test can help you determine whether your soil is ready to plant potatoes. If your soil is clay, consider adding compost or aged manure to loosen it up.
If your soil is sandy, add a little sand to improve drainage and aeration. It is also a good idea to use a slow-release organic fertilizer, such as chicken manure pellets, when you sow potatoes.
When you have prepared your garden soil for planting, select certified seed pieces that are free of pests and diseases. You don’t want to use grocery store potatoes for this purpose, as they often have growth inhibitors that stunt sprouting and prevent new tubers from forming.
Chitting or “greensprouting” potatoes before planting is a practice that can give you a slight head start and improve yields. This process can be carried out indoors, in seed trays or egg boxes from late January for early cropping varieties and mid-February for second earlies.
The main purpose of chitting is to break the dormancy within the potato tuber and encourage sprouts to form. This can help early potatoes to grow quicker and produce more shoots than if they weren’t chitted, but does increase the risk of frost damage.
However, it is important to note that if you decide to chit your seed potatoes, make sure you ‘cure’ them first (this prevents them from rotting). You can air-dry, or dip them in wood ash for a few days before planting.
The decision to chit or not to chit your seed potatoes is one that depends on the region you live in. In the south, chitting can be done from late January through to mid-February and in the north, from mid-February until mid-April.
The soil around potato plants should be hilled when the seeds are planted to promote tuber development, minimize tuber greening and provide added drainage. This is a traditional practice that has been used in farming for centuries.
Plant seed potatoes at least two weeks before the last frost date, but well before hot weather sets in for the season. This provides cool, nonfrosty weather for the potatoes and prevents them from rotting.
Hilling also helps control weeds and reduces the chance of Colorado potato beetles (see ATTRA). The first time that the potato plants are planted, they should be about six to eight inches tall.
With a hoe or your hands, gently mound up the soil around each of the potato plants until just the top few leaves show above the dirt. Repeat this process every two weeks. When the plants reach 12 to 18-inches high, they are ready for a second hilling. This can be done with straw or shredded leaves to keep the soil cool and weed-free.