Have you ever tasted a fresh, home grown potato? There is no comparison to the potatoes you buy in a supermarket! There is a very good reason why potatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in the home garden. They're easy to grow, they store well for months, and they taste much, much better.
The potato was first cultivated by the Inca Indians in Peru, in about 200 B.C. In 1537, the Spanish Conquistadors discovered the potatoes and brought them back to Europe on their return trip. The first potatoes arrived in North America in 1621.
Today, potatoes are one of the largest food crops in the world. According to the United Nations, in 2009 the amount of potatoes produced worldwide was a staggering 330 million tons! Potato production in the United States alone has grown steadily in recent years with an average of 2.5 million tons produced each year.
Be sure to only use only certified seed Potatoes!
Potatoes are susceptible to several serious diseases. Certified seed potatoes are tubers which are grown specifically for reproduction in a controlled environment to ensure the reduction of disease introduction. Genetic purity and disease control are maintained through the use of laboratory testing, greenhouse techniques and limited generation production. Once potato mini-tubers or plantlets are planted in the field, they are entered into one of the 16 seed potato certification programs across the U.S. Entry into a certification program means the field or lot of potatoes undergoes numerous inspections for bacterial, viral, and fungal diseases, as well as varietal mixture, and adheres to strict tolerances established by state and federal regulations. Although the potatoes you see in the supermarket may appear healthy, they should not be used for planting. Cooking potatoes purchased at supermarkets have not been certified as seed potatoes, and they are often treated with chemicals to keep them from sprouting.
A week or two before your planned potato planting date set your seed potatoes somewhere where they will be exposed to some warmth (between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit) and lots of light. This will cause them to start sprouting. A day or two before planting, use a sharp, clean knife to slice the larger potatoes into "seeds". Each seed should be approximately 1½ - 2 inches square, and must contain at least 1 or 2 "eyes" or buds. Smaller potatoes may be planted whole. Allow cut pieces to air dry for a couple of days. This will cause the exposed interior flesh to dry and form a thick callous over the cuts, which will help to prevent it from rotting once planted.
Potatoes can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the early spring, but you must use good judgment. Potato plants will not begin to grow until the soil temperature has reached 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The soil should be evenly moist, but not wet or soggy. If the soil is water logged when you dig, not only will you risk compacting the soil, your seed potatoes will probably rot before they even get started. Potatoes can tolerate a light frost, but you should provide some frost-protection for the plants when they are young. This can be a loose covering of straw, or a temporary plastic tent. (Be sure to remove or ventilate the plastic on sunny days!) If you plan to store potatoes through the winter, but have wet soil in early spring, you can plant your crop as late as mid-June.