Homegrown Potatoes

The Eyes Have It

Among the many crops that we can grow in what would normally be the off-season are potatoes. Early fall (in other words, right now) is a great time to tuck tubers in the ground for harvest in a few months. There are many types of potatoes from which to choose if you want to order from specialty growers. Area nurseries may not stock them at this time of year since most gardeners plant in spring. It is easy and just as acceptable to use potatoes from the supermarket, though.

Buy small potatoes and either plant them whole or cut into two or three pieces. Allow the cut surfaces to dry for several days on these “seed” potatoes before planting. Freshly cut surfaces are subject to rot below the ground so they need time to callous off. It is even possible to let them rest in a dark closet until the eyes begin to sprout and then plant them.

Potatoes require good, loose soil in order to develop smooth tubers. Heavy or rocky soil will result in deformed potatoes. Plant the seed potatoes about two inches deep and one to one-and-a-half feet apart. Continue to pull extra soil up around the plants as they grow to get the maximum crop from the increased surface roots that will form. If your soil is heavy, plant as above, but pile straw, mulch, or leaves up around the plant. Tubers will form in the interface between soil and the mulch making them easy to harvest, as well. Some gardeners use chicken wire to corral the mulch, while there is an old hippie method of using car tires as planters, stacking them up as the plant grows and filling with straw or leaves. Be sure to keep potatoes in the dark as they form. The green parts of the plant are poisonous, including the green skin that can form on exposure to light.

Early “new” potatoes can be harvested when the plant begins to bloom or even earlier, for those tiny gourmet ones. For largest size, wait until plants have died down. Dig carefully to avoid damaging them. Store as you would those from the supermarket. If you’ve never had fresh potatoes, you are in for a treat, though. You may not have many to keep.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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