Walking into the Wilco store in Canby, I was drawn to the display of seed potatoes and it brought back memories of planting potatoes in my own garden. The display with bags of potatoes and signage that says “seed potatoes” can be confusing to a beginning gardener as these are certainly not seeds. I have always thought to call these tubers “seed potatoes” was a misnomer, but that is what these small potatoes, ready for planting, are called.
The display in the Canby store has a good selection of varieties, with labels showing what is an early maturing type as well as what is mid-season and what is late season. I would suggest getting more than one type to extend the harvest season. In addition to maturing dates, some potatoes are better suited for baking than others, so check the label on the package for more information.
Potatoes need a location with full sun. good drainage and thrive in a soil rich in organic matter. The “seed potatoes” should be cut in pieces so that each piece has at least one ‘eye’. The ‘eye’ is where the new plant will emerge. I always like to have two ‘eyes’ per piece just as insurance in case one does not survive. Once the “seed potato” has been cut into pieces, place them on a screen or cloth and put them in an area away from the rain. Let them air dry for 2-3 days as this will allow the seed piece to naturally ‘heal over’ and will help prevent rotting.
Plant these cut pieces about 4 inches deep, with the ‘eye’ facing upward. As new growth appears, add soil, compost or mulch around the stem to make a small ‘hill’. Repeat this several times during the early spring season. The potato tubers form on the stem that is above the seed piece and as a small ‘hill’ is made around the plant, this is where the tubers will develop. The tubers need to be protected from sunlight. A signal that the potatoes are ready to harvest will be at the end of the summer when the plants begin to die.
Even a gardener with very limited space, such as a deck or patio, can grow potatoes. Use a large pot or nursery container and put a tomato cage around the plant as it grows to keep it upright. Be sure that the location is in full sun.
Potatoes provide an ideal educational opportunity for getting kids involved in gardening. Many kids today have no idea how potatoes are grown. Some years ago, I was showing some neighborhood kids how to harvest a potato and one kid was very serious as he asked me why I planted them underground! The nutritional value of potatoes should not be dismissed as they are a good source of vitamins C and B6, as well as manganese and niacin.
Genetic testing has shown that potatoes were domesticated over 7,000 years ago in what is today Peru and Bolivia. Today, it is the world’s fourth largest food crop after corn, wheat, and rice. It is probably no surprise that Idaho is the number one producing state with Washington at number two and Oregon at number six. Take advantage of our mild climate and if you have not grown potatoes, give them a try!