It's time to plant potatoes in your garden

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By Dennis Morgeson

It is almost time to plant the spring garden, but it is going to have to dry out first. We still have a couple weeks before we are actually in the “tater” planting window. One of the first things we can plant in Kentucky is potatoes, and I must admit that those first new potatoes in late spring rank right up there with the first tomato and ear of corn for me.
We generally plant potatoes around St. Patrick’s Day or Good Friday, however, they can actually go in the ground in mid-March through mid-April, and you can expect a fairly good harvest, but you will have a better crop if you try to hit the mid-to-late-March time frame. Many of you grew up raising potatoes and most of us have only planted potatoes in the spring but you can actually get two harvests if you plant a summer crop as well. It is generally very difficult to buy the seed potatoes during the summer to plant a late crop so you might want to buy a few extra pounds now and refrigerate them until you are ready to plant in June. The fall or summer crop should go in the ground around June 15; these potatoes won’t grow as well and will not yield as well as the spring crop because of the heat and generally droughty weather we experience in the summer. Potatoes do prefer a cool season such as we have in the spring.
Potatoes prefer loose moist soil and do benefit from a layer of compost or other organic material applied to the furrow or ditch when you plan. Be sure to allow the soil to dry adequately before plowing in the spring or you will have a long season of hard clotty gardening!
The portion of a potato that we eat and plant is called a tuber which is actually a modified stem or storage unit. The “eyes” are actually buds on a stem, this is why we can cut the tubers or seed potatoes up into seed pieces to get several plants from one potato. Potatoes should be cut into a few pieces with at least a couple buds or eyes on each seed piece. I don’t generally have a problem with cutting and planting directly but if you have experienced rot in seed pieces before it is a good idea to cut the seed potatoes up a few days before planting and allow them to air dry in a garage or out building where they won’t get wet and won’t freeze. The cut portions will seal over and prevent some of the bacteria and fungus from entering the seed piece that causes it to rot after it is planted.
If you haven’t gotten a soil test done on your vegetable garden in the last three years, it is a good idea to do that now! We still have time to send it in before you plant.  If you don’t plan to get a soil test done apply 2-3 pounds of 10-10-10 or a similar multi purpose fertilizer per 1,000 square feet at planting. Work in the fertilizer and plant your seed potatoes 5 inches deep in a furrow or row. Space the seed pieces “eye” up and about a foot apart, I generally place two pieces per foot to make sure I get a good solid row. As the plants grow, it is a good idea to pull soil up against the plants to make a mound or hill around them. This keeps the potatoes covered and helps the stems stay upright longer. Rows should be about 3 feet apart.
When the potatoes start to bloom, it is a sign that tubers are forming and it is alright to reach into the mound and snatch a few new potatoes for a delectable spring meal! As long as you don’t disturb the plant too much, it won’t affect yield much at all and you get a sampling of the fruits or vegetable of your labor. I know many of you have insect problems on potatoes when you have grown them in the past and I will have a future article on how to control potato beetles, flea beetles, and more.
This Thursday evening the Wheelbarrow Series class is on growing Beans and “Taters” in Kentucky and the cost to attend is $10.  There are still spots open if you would like to attend so call the office at 859-336-7741.  Class starts at 6 p.m.
Just to give you an idea of what you will get for your supply charge, each participant will receive twelve varieties of beans and 5 varieties of potatoes to try at home! If you purchased these items separately on your own, it would cost you at least $30 and maybe more.
There is a new potato variety out that Cornell University developed and northern organic potato growers say  is Colorado potato beetle resistant…. participants are going to get to test this variety out this year!