Growing potatoes is a fairly easy thing to do, and they can be a fun crop to produce in the garden. Potatoes can be grown in regular vegetable beds, or in containers, and while they are at risk of developing certain diseases and insect infestations, managing potatoes is usually not terribly difficult. Growing potatoes can be a great learning experience for younger gardeners who want projects of their own to supervise.
The ideal growing environment for potatoes is sunny, with well-drained, loose, loamy soil. Potatoes grow underground, so the soil cannot be caked or compact, and they prefer slightly acidic soil. As a general rule, potatoes will grow essentially anywhere, as anyone who has noticed potatoes growing in the compost pile can attest, but an ideal growing environment will produce better potatoes.
It is also important to rotate potatoes. Potatoes can develop diseases if they are planted in the same spot every year, and most gardeners recommend a three year rotation cycle to keep the soil disease-free. To further reduce the risk of disease, gardeners should use certified seed potatoes from a garden store. Seed potatoes from a garden store are specifically designed for gardening, and they are disease-free, unlike potatoes from the grocery store or potatoes from last year's crop.
Growing potatoes starts with developing the sprouts. Potatoes should be planted in the spring, when the soil has dried sufficiently to be easy to work. Around a week before you plan to plant potatoes, put your seed potatoes in a warm, well-lit place to encourage sprouts to develop. While the sprouts are developing, you can prepare a bed or container with well-aerated, fertile soil. If growing in containers, mound the soil. If growing in a garden bed, you can use mounds or raised furrows, depending on personal taste. Growing potatoes on a mount or furrow gives the plant room to sprawl and reduces the risk of rot.
You can plant seed potatoes whole, or cut them up into “eyes,” with each eye containing a single sprout. Make sure that the eye is fully covered with soil, so that the potato will develop entirely underground. After you plant, water lightly, and water around once a week to promote healthy growth. Depending on the cultivar you have chosen, the potatoes will mature in two to four months, although you can eat immature new potatoes at any time. If you like, you can stagger your planting through the early summer to ensure a steady supply of potatoes.
Potatoes are ready to harvest when all of the upper growth has died away. Dig out your potatoes carefully, and shake or brush them to get rid of dirt before storing them in a cool dry place, and do not wash them until you are ready to use them. Some volunteer potato plants may appear in the following year, as it is difficult to remove all of the potatoes from the ground. These plants may flourish and produce healthy potatoes, or they may become diseased, depending on the luck of the draw. Plants like beans, greens, and peas are all good choices to plant after growing potatoes in a bed or container to refresh the soil.