Potato ranks with wheat and rice as one of the most important staple crop sin the human diet around the world. Certainly potatoes are an important part of our diets as we eat French fries, potato chips, mashed potatoes, augratin potatoes, and more. Potatoes are very easy to grow in your own garden.
Potatoes are among the earliest vegetables planted in the garden. Early, midseason, and late varieties all may be planted in March or early April.
Potatoes are started from "seed pieces", rather than from true seed. These seed pieces may be small whole potatoes or potatoes that are cut into 1 ½ to 2 ounce pieces. Plant the pieces soon after cutting, being sure that at least one good "eye" is in each seed piece. Plant seed pieces 10 to 12 inches apart and cover in a furrow between 2 and 3 inches deep. Space rows 24 to 36 inches apart.
Mulching is usually beneficial in growing potatoes. After the potato plants have emerged, organic mulch can be applied to conserve moisture, help keep down weeds, and cool the soil.
After the potatoes break the surface of the ground, gradually build up a low ridge of loose soil by cultivation and hoeing toward the plants. This ridge, which may become 4 to 6 inches high by summer, reduces the number of "sunburned" (greened) tubers.
There are more than 100 varieties of potatoes. Usually people choose between white or red ones, but there are also yellow and purple potatoes available. The two most popular potatoes around here are the late Kennebec and the midseason red Pontiac. Kennebec has light brown skin and is smooth. It is resistant to some viruses and to late potato blight. Red Pontiac has red skin with deep eyes.
One of the most popular of the new wave of yellow-fleshed ones is Yukon Gold. These have good flavor and more moist flesh. Yukon Gold is a very early bearer of large, round, attractive tubers with a hint of pink around the eyes.
Did I mention purple potatoes? Yes there are potatoes available with purple skin and creamy white insides. 'Purple Chief' is one example. It was developed in Canada and has long been a favorite there. This midseason potato is rated as a great all-purpose potato that also keeps a long time in storage.
If you don't have room in your yard for a row of potatoes, consider growing them in a container. For best results, use a container that is at least 15 gallons and about 24" tall. It can be a metal or plastic garbage can with drain holes, a terracotta pot or a commercially produced heavy duty fabric or plastic potato bag. You can even grow potatoes in bales of straw!
To learn more, go to University of Illinois Extension's website Watch Your Garden Grow at http://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/. If you have specific questions, please contact me or a Master Gardener at email@example.com or 309-685-3140309-685-3140.