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Potato

AT A GLANCE

Botanical Information

Family: Nightshade Height: 3 feet A/B/P, Hardiness: annual Spacing: 1 per square

Growing Season Spring: yes Summer: yes Fall: yes Winter: no

Seed to Harvest/Flower: 12 weeks Seeds Storage: use fresh seed potatoes each year Weeks to Maturity: 12 weeks Indoor Seed Starting: no Earliest Outdoor Planting: in spring when soil has reached 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Additional Plantings: late spring for a second crop to store over the winter Last Planting: not needed

Description

Potatoes need no introduction. But growing your own potatoes is the best way to sample the large variety of potato shapes, sizes, and colors. Grow them early for small, tasty nuggets; grow them late and large to store over the winter. And the potato plant itself is bushy and pretty, doing double duty as an ornamental and an edible. The white flowers are the indicator that the potatoes are ready to come out of the ground and on to the table.

Starting

Location: full sun Seeds Indoors: no

Transplanting: in spring when soil has reached 45 degrees. Seeds Outdoors: use only certified disease-free seed potatoes. Sprout potatoes a week before planting time by placing them in a tray where they will receive light (not sun) and temperatures of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. A day or two before planting, cut potatoes into "seeds" about 1V2-inch square with at least one "eye" per section. Plant each seed 4 inches deep and create a ridge of soil around the planted seed. When the shoots reach about 10 inches tall, "hill" the soil up around the plant, covering half the stem. Do this every week or two, until the plant begins to flower, to make certain your new potatoes are well covered. Uncovered potatoes will turn green.

Basil and Beyond

Growing

Watering: Weekly, 2 cups per plant; twice weekly during flowering. Maintenance: Protect from frost.

Harvesting

How: Gently loosen the soil around early potatoes and remove the largest tubers, leaving the smaller ones to continue growing. For later potatoes, gently dig about a foot outside the plant and remove the potatoes as you find them. Take care not to stab or cut the potatoes as you dig. If the weather is dry, leave the potatoes on top of the soil for 2 to 3 days to dry. If the weather is wet, bring the potatoes into a garage or basement to dry. This will toughen the skin for storage. Store potatoes in a cool (40 degrees F.), dark location for 3 to 6 months. Do not store potatoes near apples, which give off a chemical that will damage the potatoes.

When: Small early potatoes can be harvested as needed in early summer after they finish flowering. Later potatoes can be left in the soil until 2 to 3 weeks after the foliage has died back in fall, and can be lifted all at once for storing.

Preparing and Using

Potatoes can be boiled, fried, steamed, grilled, or baked. All potatoes should be cooked or placed in water immediately after peeling to prevent discoloration. To peel or not to peel is generally a result of the preparation method or personal preference. The exceptions are thin-skinned new potatoes, which should not be peeled.

Choose the type of potato to use in a recipe based on its qualities. New potatoes are moist and waxy and are best for steaming, boiling, and in salads. Oblong mature white potatoes are rather dry and starchy. They are the most popular potato to use for French-fries and they are great for baking and mashing. Round red potatoes have a rather waxy texture making them ideal for boiling and mashing. Round white potatoes are thin-skinned and hold their shape in salads as well as boiling and roasting. Yellow-fleshed potatoes are good for steaming, roasting, and mashing.

Potatoes do not freeze, dry, or can well.

Problems

Flea beetles, leaf hoppers, slugs, blight, scab, root knot nematode. Tubers exposed to sunlight will turn green and are mildly toxic.

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