Updated: May 27, 2020
Potatoes are the most eaten vegetable in the US! This is not too surprising considering how easy they are to grow and how versatile they are to cook with.
Did you know that a potato plant actually comes from a potato!? If you have ever left potatoes in your pantry for too long you may have noticed little sprouts protruding from their "eyes"--those are in fact the beginning sprouts of a potato plant.
When we grow potatoes in the teaching garden we start with a big bag of potatoes. This year we are growing red potatoes. First we cut up the potatoes into chunks making sure to leave at least one eye on each potato piece. If the potato is very small (less than about two inches in diameter) you can plant it as is; we only cut the potatoes that are bigger than that. For example, we would cut the potato pictured below in half so that each half has at least one eye (the top half would have a few, while the bottom will have just one). You can see what the potato eyes looks like in the picture below. They may not always be this big and obvious, but look for a little depression or a pimple-like spot on your potato to identify the eyes.
Once we have cut up all of our potatoes making sure to leave at least one eye on each piece, we lay them out to dry. It is important to let the potatoes dry after cutting and before planting because they will be less likely to rot or spread disease. We lay out all of our potatoes for a few days before planting. It looks like this...
Once our potatoes are fully dried (they sat like this for two or three days) they are ready to plant! This year we planted our potatoes in both rows and raised beds. Our rows are about 50 feet long, and about 2 feet wide. We planted one row of potatoes down the middle of the row and spaced them out about a foot apart (12-15 inches between each potato). That means we planted about 50 potatoes (maybe a little less) in our big row. In our raised beds (which are about 6 feet long and two feet wide) we planted one row of potatoes using the same spacing, so we had about 3 potatoes per raised bed. We planted in 9 raised beds, so in total we planted about 18 potatoes in the raised beds. You can grow potatoes at home as long as you have a relatively large container (milk crate sized or greater)! You can even grow them hanging on a sunny fence in a deep burlap sack filled with soil. Potatoes are not picky about soil and are one of the easiest plants to grow - although they do need full sun. They will not be too happy in the shade or indoors (unless you have a powerful grow light).
To plant potatoes we dig a little trench down the middle of the row about 4-5 inches deep and place the potatoes in the trench about a foot apart. When we planted in the raised beds we just dug a deep hole with our trowels and then placed the potato piece about 4-5 inches under the soil. Then we cover the potato with dirt and water generously. Here is what our potatoes looked like in the row before we covered them with soil.
We make sure to place the eye of the potato facing upwards - this is because the plant will sprout from here and we want to make it easy for the plant to grow straight up so it can reach the top of the soil quickly and begin to capture energy from the sun. If we placed the eye facing down it would probably still grow but it would take much longer and the potato would use a lot more energy trying to find its way above ground. In this photo you can see how far apart we spaced our potatoes before eventually covering them with soil.
What's cool about potatoes is once they start to grow, you can actually bury the plant and it will encourage it to grow more potatoes underground. Once our plants are about 8 inches high we will mound soil around the bottom half of the plant (making sure to leave the top half exposed). This will encourage the part of the plant that is underground to sprout more potatoes, drastically increasing our harvest! If you are growing potatoes in containers at home, we recommend only filling the container about halfway with soil; then, once your plant is about 8 inches high you can fill the container up with more soil to bury the plant. More on that in a few weeks, stay tuned!