Potatoes are a staple of the American diet and are a common ingredient in many foods. While they are heavily cultivated commercially, potatoes are also fairly easy to grow at home. If you have grown potatoes in the past and are looking to get another crop started this year, you may have considered using seed potatoes. Proper storage and care of your seed potatoes can mean all the difference when it comes to a healthy, bountiful crop.
What Are Seed Potatoes?
You grow seed potatoes specifically for replanting to produce a potato crop. They are not a different kind of potato. Instead, it is their purpose that causes them to have a different classification.
Potatoes are tubers, which means that they grow as the food supply for the leafy green part of their plant. The tuber grows larger underground to store food for the plant. If provided proper nutrients, tubers like potatoes grow sprouts underground, which we call eyes. The eyes of a potato then develop into new plants.
You might think that you can start a potato crop using store-bought potatoes. However, most of the potatoes sold to grocery stores have chemical treatments so that they do not grow eyes while on the shelf. As a result, they are far less likely to be effective as seed potatoes. In addition, the chance of a diseased potato crop is much greater if you use store-bought potatoes as the basis for your planting.
How to Harvest Seed Potatoes
To harvest seed potatoes, dig up any potatoes you wish to store for next year's harvest. Brush the dirt off the potatoes, but do not wash them. You may also purchase certified disease-free potatoes from a garden supply or home improvement store. Many experts recommend starting fresh with certified seed potatoes each year to lessen the risk of an infected and ultimately damaged crop. Plants such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers (all members of the Solanaceae or Nightshade family) are particularly prone to plant-borne illnesses that can destroy entire crops.
If you choose to move forward with homegrown seed potatoes, be sure to practice crop rotation, planting your potatoes in a different place each year to prevent disease. Not only is this important for the yield of your harvest, it is essential for your seed potatoes. This is because diseases carried by these seed potatoes are likely to persist into another growing season.
Another way to maximize the return on your crop is to harvest seed potatoes of varying types, including heirloom varieties. If you do accidentally introduce a disease to your crop, you might have a higher yield if you have established a diverse population.
How to Store Seed Potatoes
Store your seed potatoes in a cool, dry place that hovers around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. While some humidity is essential for your seed potatoes, you should not expose them to too much moisture, or they may begin to rot.
In addition, it is critical that potatoes have time to rest, so you should not move or expose them to light or heat during the storage period. Locations like cool closets or cellars are excellent places for seed potatoes. If you are planning to store your potatoes in a basement location, take care to place them so that mice or other nuisance wildlife cannot get to them.
Keep the potatoes in a cardboard box or brown paper bag during their hibernation period. However, they require ventilation, so do not stack or pile the potatoes too high. Additionally, do not cover or close the container so that air cannot enter.
Three to four weeks before you wish to plant your crop, move your seed potatoes to a well-lit area with high humidity. A sunny window or under a grow light is an excellent choice. The purpose of this exercise is to encourage the sprouting of your potatoes. Covering seed potatoes with moist burlap bags can aid in the sprouting process.
How to Plant Seed Potatoes
If your seed potatoes are small, you do not need to cut them. However, if you have stored large potatoes, you should cut them into pieces with two to three eyes each. Each piece should weigh about two ounces. Following these guidelines will maximize your crop yield. You will need to either plant any cut potatoes immediately or let them dry for up to two days and then plant them.
Plant your seed potatoes in well-drained, rich and fertilized soil that is six inches deep. If you choose to hill your potatoes, mound the dirt covering them and add a layer of mulch on top. Keep hills about one foot apart. Water your seed potatoes regularly, providing each plant two inches of water per week.