Across the month of March, gardeners in Tennessee prepare their soil beds in anticipation of planting potatoes. Rather than growing these vegetables from seeds, gardeners purchase small, healthy tubers called seed potatoes, which are certified disease-free. Since seed potatoes are planted in the ground and initially protected from frost, planting take place roughly two to four weeks before the average last spring frost date across the Volunteer State. The ideal garden site for potatoes is one with fertile, organic-rich soil that is moist and drains well. Full sun exposure ensures the best growth and production of tubers for harvest.
Cultivate the soil with a shovel or rototiller in early spring as soon as the ground is workable. Dig the soil 6 to 10 inches deep. That means there is no frost in the soil, and it's not overly wet. Depending on the location in Tennessee, prepare the vegetable garden area for potatoes between late February and late March.
Scatter 1 to 3 inches of organic matter on top of the soil and mix with the shovel or rototiller. Use compost, leaf mold or well-rotted animal manure to improve the texture and fertility of the soil. The potatoes will benefit from your bed preparation.
Rake the tilled area smooth with a garden rake and allow it to naturally settle for three to seven days. While raking, remove any debris and pulverize any soil clumps so the area is even and fine-textured.
Purchase seed potatoes at the garden center. Ask staff members for insight into the different varieties. Confirm that the seed potatoes are certified disease-free. They also should look plump and feel dry and firm to the touch.
Cut the seed potatoes with a knife into segments about 2 oz. in size. Each cut segment needs to contain at least one dormant bud called an eye. From this eye the potato stem and roots sprout. This is optional since some seed potatoes are rather small and don't need cutting so one to three eyes exist on each. If you cannot plant the cut seed potatoes within four hours, allow them to air dry for one or two days. This curing of the wounds seals the tuber and helps prevent any infestation by disease spores.
Create a 4- to 5-inch-deep furrow in the vegetable garden with the hoe. Space rows of potatoes 36 inches apart.
Place a seed potato into the furrow with the cut side down or eyes oriented upward or to the side. Space potatoes 10 to 12 inches apart in the furrow. Cover them with soil and gently tamp the surface with the back of the hoe blade. This removes air pockets and brings the seed potatoes in direct contact with soil particles.