Growing potatoes in Vail Valley is easier than you think |

Growing potatoes in Vail Valley is easier than you think

Wildflower Farm Staff
Dirty Hands
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –The potato is a starchy, tuberous crop from the perennial Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family (also known as the nightshades). First cultivated around 200 B.C. by the Inca Indians in Peru, potatoes were eventually brought to Europe by Spanish Conquistadors in 1537 and by 1720 they had arrived in North America.

Until the early 1990s, most potatoes were grown and consumed in Europe, North America and countries of the former Soviet Union. Since then, there has been a dramatic increase in potato production and demand in Asia, Africa and Latin America. China is currently the top producer of potatoes, supplying more than 20 percent of the world’s potatoes.

Growing your own potatoes is an easy and rewarding way to enjoy one of the most popular and versatile food crops in the world. Home grown potatoes are fresher and more flavorful than those bought at supermarkets, and by reducing the time between harvest and consumption, more vitamins and minerals are retained. Growing your own is also the best way to ensure that your potatoes have not been exposed to harmful chemicals and pesticides.

Potatoes can be planted as soon as the soil has warmed to more than 45 degrees and is dry enough to be easily worked. They require full sun and will produce the best yield when planted in a light, loose, well-drained loam. Soil can be amended with well-aged manure or compost.

Though potatoes require very little in the way of fertilization, a high-phosphorus fertilizer such as bat guano mixed into the soil before planting will provide your potatoes with all the nutrition they need for the growing season.

Soil should be kept evenly moist, but not wet or soggy. This is especially true during flowering.

Potato plants prefer slightly acidic conditions (pH 5.8 to 6.5). They can tolerate a light frost, but additional frost protection may be necessary for young plants.

Potato plants can become prone to soil-borne diseases if planted in the same spot repeatedly and should be rotated to a new site every three years. To further reduce the risk of disease, only plant-certified seeds purchased from a nursery.

A week or two prior to planting, place your seed potatoes someplace bright and warm (60 degrees to 70 degrees) to induce sprouting. A day or two before planting, use a sharp, clean knife to slice the seed potato into “seeds.” Each seed should be about 1 inch to 2 inches square and must contain at least one “eye.” Let seeds rest for a day or so, allowing calluses to form over the cuts.

To plant in rows, dig trenches 4 inches deep and 2 feet to 3 feet apart. Space seeds 15 inches apart in the trenches.

If your space is limited, plant in mounds: Designate a 3-foot to 4-foot diameter circle and space 6 to 8 potato seeds evenly around the circle. Cover with 4 inches of soil. Commercially available potato planter bags are capable of holding 3 to 5 plants. With a convenient, re-sealable panel for removing mature tubers from beneath the plant, these planters are ideal for patio gardeners and people with limited space.

Whether planted in rows, mounds or planter bags, “hilling” will significantly increase yield and tuber size: Once the stem of your plant reaches 8 inches, add enough soil to bring the level half-way up the stem of the plant. Another “hilling” will be needed 2 to 3 weeks later, again adding soil half-way up the stem of the plant.

After these initial two hillings, add 1 inch to 2 inches of soil to the hill each week or so, to ensure that there is enough soil above the forming potatoes to keep them from being exposed to light. Potatoes that are exposed to light during growth will develop unattractive and bitter tasting green spots.

Keep your potatoes well watered through the summer, especially during and right after flowering. You can start to harvest “new” potatoes 2 to 3 weeks after the plants have finished flowering. When foliage yellows and dies back, stop watering and allow the tubers to mature for a week or two before starting to harvest.

Potatoes can be harvested by gently loosening the soil, reaching under the plant and removing the largest tubers, leaving the smaller ones to continue growing. If your plants have not begun to die back by the time the snow starts falling, all the foliage should be cut off to ensure that your crop has ample time to mature before the ground freezes.

If you wish to store your potatoes for future use, they need to be dried. This drying process thickens the skin, which protects the tuber and retains moisture during storage. If the weather is dry, lay unwashed potatoes on the soil surface for 2 to 3 days. If it’s raining, move your harvest to a cool, dry area like a garage or basement for the drying period.

Store dried, un-washed and undamaged potatoes in a dark, cool, well-ventilated location where they should keep well for three to six months.

Wildflower Farm sells four different varieties of potato seeds as well as onion and garlic sets. Colorado Alpines and the Wildflower Farm are located in Edwards on Highway 6. Your feedback is valuable. Send your thoughts to Join the Wildflower Farm’s educational newsletter for more gardening tips and education, and to receive monthly discount opportunities.

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