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Potatoes rising. Photo: Ellen Rocco
Potatoes rising. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Planning for potatoes

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It isn't the growing season yet in the North Country, not by a long shot, but it is planning time. Catalogs for seeds, gardening supplies and gadgets are the first signs of spring in many households. The potential looks limitless...and overwhelming.

Amy Ivy, horticulturist with Cooperative Extension, shares a fun idea for a summer project that can work even for non-gardeners: potatoes.

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Reported by

Martha Foley
News and Public Affairs Director

Many of the backyards in the North Country are covered with bare ice, which can suffocate what’s underneath it. However, if there are some cracks in the ice, air exchange may be able to occur. There may be tiny holes in the ice that voles likely made so they would be able to get some fresh air. There really isn’t anything that you can do at home except notice where the problem areas are now. In the summertime you can relocate plants if you need to and think about drainage and things like that.

As you look towards the coming summer, you might want to think potatoes. Growing potatoes can be fun, especially if you have any children. This can be a neat little project for kids to get over any fear they have of digging in the dirt.

Unlike corn or beans, potatoes do not actually produce seeds. What you plant is the actual tuber that you eat. Most potatoes used as "seed" are raised for that purpose. By getting the certified seed potato, it has beengrown under very careful conditions in the field, and has been screened for common diseases. You can actually eat a seed potato, but they cost a lot more than a regular potato.

Seed pototoes come in five or ten pound bags, so you’ll probably have extra to share with friends. You don’t want to buy the ones in the grocery store because a lot of them have been treated to not sprout, so they are unreliable and may not be suitable for the local climate.

You can plant a seed potato it in dirt or in leafy mulch . Some people have used old hay bales or straw that is semi-rotted as a bed for the potatoes. If you bury them deep, potatoes will form along the underground stem as it grows. Potatoes are actually a modified stem, not a root. So the more of the stem of the plant that you bury, the more places there are for potatoes to form. They send a little side shoot out and the potato forms at the end of that little side shoot.

Also, the potato has eye. If the potato you are planting is bigger than an egg, you can cut it in half and get more shoots that won’t all be competing with each other. You don’t want to plant too deep; that’s why you hill potatoes, you pull soil up as they grow to pile up around the base. So if you’re planting them in your garden, plant them about 4 inches deep but plan on bringing in more soil as those plants grow to hill them so that you get more of that stem covered.

If you don’t have a garden, you can still plant potatoes. You can use a collapsible bins, which is about the size of a 30-gallon garbage can with drain holes added. The bins make it harder for rodents to harvest your crop. If you pant potatoes in an isolated area, rodents love that. It's better to plant potatoes in the middle of your garden.

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