Growing potatoes here in Austin is a relatively easy and tasty addition to your garden. They can be grown in a variety of different ways: in ground, in raised beds, and even in containers like Smart Pots, stock tanks, plastic buckets, and more. The key to growing big, beautiful potatoes is to give them as much room as possible for the biggest and healthiest potatoes!
A few weeks prior to planting start the “chitting” process. Have you ever forgotten about a potato in the back of your pantry and seen it grow long, white shoots? That’s what you’re aiming to replicate! Chitting (or pre-sprouting) is the process of getting the potato eyes to start sprouting. This reduces the number of days until the harvest.
To pre-sprout a potato:
1. Put your seed potatoes on a tray lined with newspaper, or in a cardboard egg carton. If you have very large potatoes, cut them up into chicken-egg sized pieces with at least one eye per piece. They should be spaced out and not touching each other.
2. Place them in a sunny, warm window.
3. Once the eyes have 1” long shoots, it’s time to plant!
Chitting is not necessary, but it does hasten production and reduces the chance of your seed potatoes rotting in the cold, wet soil. Potatoes can be planted anytime between mid-January through the end of February, but aim to have them planted by mid-February for best results.
If you’re growing potatoes in-ground or in raised beds, select a spot with rich, loose soil, and make sure it receives at least 6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight a day. Any less than 6 hours will not yield many potatoes.
Amend your soil with a balanced granular fertilizer, we recommend MicroLife 6-2-4 or Rabbit Hill Farms Tomato and Pepper Food.
Dig furrows/trenches 6 – 8” wide and 6 – 8” deep. Space each seed potato about 10” apart, as crowded potato plants will produce smaller potatoes! Aim for 1 seed potato per square foot.
If you’re growing in containers, select one that is at least 5 – 7 gallons (12”-15” inches). Potatoes can be grown in larger grow bags like Smart Pots, in plastic home improvement store buckets, and old whiskey barrels. As long as the container is at least 12” deep, the seed potatoes are 6” apart, and the container has plenty of drainage holes, it should yield potatoes! The more you try to cram in a container, the smaller the potatoes will be.
Plant potatoes with the sprouts pointed up, and cover with 3 – 4 inches of soil. Water in well at planting, then follow up with regular waterings, making sure they don’t dry out too much in between waterings. Regular watering is important, but do allow the top few inches of soil to dry before watering again.
In a few weeks, you’ll have bright green shoots poking out of the soil! Once the shoots are 4 – 6 inches tall, cover them with a few more inches of soil. This is called “earthing up” or “hilling”. You should repeat this process every few weeks as the stem grows taller and taller. The reason for doing this is the stem will put out side shoots where more potatoes will grow. If any of the growing potatoes get too much sunlight, they will turn green and will be inedible.
Potatoes are typically ready to harvest when the tops of the plants turn yellow and wither, usually within 90-120 days after planting. Sometimes the potato plant has white or pink flowers, which is another good sign that the potatoes are formed and ready to be harvested! Using a garden fork, gently loosen the soil around the plant and lift, taking care not to damage any of the potatoes.
Once harvested, they’re ready to be used right away as new potatoes. If you want them to last longer for storing, cut back the stalks of the plant. This will help speed skin toughening. Then, brush off excess soil with a vegetable brush (do not wash them) and store in a dark, dry location.
Home grown potatoes are a joy to grow in your garden every winter and their growth signals the start of spring! There is nothing better than fresh potatoes in a soup, potato salad, or alongside your dinner!