There is nothing better than a perfectly-boiled new potato, lightly buttered and salted. If you have been accustomed to purchasing potatoes from the grocery store, chances are that you've only tasted a few common varieties.
When you grow your own, there is a whole world of flavors, colors, shapes, and sizes open to you. You can grow all the new spuds you could possibly ask for, or grow good keeping ones to store for the winter.
Potatoes should be grown in an area that gets at least six hours of sun, in soil that is of average fertility and well-drained. Heavy clay makes it difficult for full-size tubers to form.
It should also be a spot in which you have not grown spuds, tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants for the past two years, to prevent soil-borne diseases. You should be planting early season varieties as soon as dirt can be worked and when soil temperatures have reached 40 degrees.
Mid and late season varieties can be planted one to four weeks before your last spring frost. You should only plant certified disease-free seed potatoes, which are available in garden centers, nurseries, and catalogs.
For an extra-early start on your spuds, you'll want to "chit" them. This simply means you lay your tubers, eye-side up, in a box in a cool, dry place for one to two weeks, until the eyes sprout.
You do not need to chit mid and late season spuds; simply plant the tubers whenever you're ready. Small seed potatoes can be planted whole.
Those larger than a chicken egg can be cut so that there are one to three eyes per piece. Just make sure that you let the cut seed sit out for at least 24 hours before planting so that the cut sides callous over and they don't rot.
There are several methods for planting spuds in your garden. One method is to dig a trench six to eight inches deep and place them 12 inches apart.
You can also dig individual holes. Dig a hole six to eight inches deep and wide, place potato in the hole and cover with four inches of soil.
Many gardeners plant the spuds in containers such as barrels, trash cans, or wire enclosures. Place six inches of dirt or potting mix in the bottom, place spuds on top of soil, and cover with an additional four inches of dirt.
Growing potatoes is very simple. They require one inch of water per week, and if you have amended your oil with compost, will not require fertilizer.
If you haven't been amending the soil with compost or other organic matter, you can mix a balanced organic fertilizer into the dirt at planting time. In addition to keeping the area watered and weed free, you'll need to hill your potatoes regularly.
Hilling ensures that the forming tubers stay underground and don't turn green. When the foliage of your spuds is 12 inches tall, add either soil or straw to the top of the trench or hole, leaving three to four inches of foliage exposed.
You'll want to do this every couple of weeks, being sure to leave the top few inches of foliage exposed each time. New potatoes can be dug any time during the season, as soon as you see blooms on the plants.
If you are growing them to store, you'll want to let the foliage turn brown. Cut it back, and then leave the spuds in the ground for a few more weeks, being sure to harvest before you get a hard frost.
The best way to harvest is to use a digging fork, and start at the outer edge of the hill or trench. Try to get the fork as deep into the dirt as possible, and lift to harvest the spuds.
You can save seeds from your garden from year to year. Simply save healthy tubers in a cool, dry spot.
The good thing about this is that, over time, you end up with a strain of potatoes that is particularly suited to conditions in your garden. To store spuds, keep them in a cold but not freezing, dark spot with some humidity.
Don't wash them before storing, but let them sit out for a few days after harvesting so that any soil clinging to the tubers dries thoroughly. One plant will typically yield between two and ten pounds of potatoes.