Growing potatoes in the garden is such a fascinating crop to grow, since the edible portion of the plant is secretly grown underground. With the wide variety of potato shapes, sizes, and colors, this underground stem can enhance your garden and diet at the same time!
Start potatoes in the garden from seed potatoes. Seed potatoes are actually a piece of potato rather than a seed. Purchase “certified” seed stock from a reputable nursery or mail-order company. The certified means that the stock has been inspected and is disease free. Avoid using grocery store potatoes or potatoes from your own garden, since soil-borne diseases can be carried easily this way.
If seed potatoes are not cut, slice the tuber into pieces that are similar to the size of a small chicken egg. Make sure that each piece has at least 2 to 3 eyes which is a small depression where potato sprouts will form. Next, store newly cut pieces at room temperature for 1 to 3 days before planting. This gives the cut surfaces time to dry and form a callus, which decreases rotting.
In Kentucky, home gardeners can plant early potatoes from March 15th through April 10th in a well-drained, loamy soil high in organic matter. Soils should have a pH level of 5.0 to 5.5, so scab disease will not be a problem. When planting the seed pieces, drop them into a furrow that is 3 to 5 inches deep with 6 to 12 inch spacing in between pieces. Fill in the furrow to ground level. “Hill” potatoes when they reach 4 to 6 inches tall by mounding soil to cover most of the leaves. Three weeks later, hill again. This technique will make furrows between the rows at least 6 inches deep.
Since potatoes are shallow rooted, they need constant soil moisture. If soil dries out after tubers have formed, a second growth like a crack or knob will start when soil becomes moist again. Also, fluctuating dry and wet conditions can cause cavities near the center of the potato to develop.
Harvest mature potatoes after vines have been dead for two weeks. This method allows the skin to set and minimizes skin peeling, bruising, and rot while in storage. Quickly remove potatoes from the field to avoid sunscald damage if harvest conditions have high temperatures or bright sunlight. Also, be cautious to avoid bruising tubers during harvest.
For more information about growing potatoes in the Kentucky garden, make sure to contact the local Extension Office in your area. They have a free resource entitled “Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky” publication which can be found at http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/ID/ID128/ID128.pdf.
Control Tips for the Colorado Potato Beetle
Once gardeners plant potatoes in the garden, it won’t be much longer before they discover the black and yellow-striped “potato bug”. The potato bug is scientifically known as, Leptinotarsa decemlineata, or more commonly referred to as the Colorado potato beetle. Both the larvae and adult forms of this insect feed on potato foliage, and if left untreated, can quickly defoliate plants. The Colorado potato beetle can also be a serious pest to other vegetables including eggplant, pepper, and tomato.
To control Colorado potato beetle, it is good to understand the insect’s lifecycle. The beetle overwinters in the ground, and becomes active in the spring at the time when potatoes begin to emerge in May where they feed on weeds and early plantings of potato. The female beetles lay orange-yellow eggs in batches on the underside of leaves. Females can lay 500 or more eggs over a period of five weeks.
After the eggs hatch, the larvae appear in groups and begin feeding on potato foliage. The larvae are easily recognizable by their humpbacks with two rows of black spots on each side of their body. Then, the full grown larvae move down in the ground to pupate and in five to 10 days, the adult beetle emerges. In Kentucky, this lifecycle continues with two to three generations occurring annually.
Treatment for Colorado potato beetle in home vegetable gardens can be challenging, but not impossible. Check the undersides of potato leaves for egg masses. If noticed, remove leaves from the garden and dispose in the trash. Adult beetles can fly into gardens so make sure to inspect the garden regularly. For small gardens, handpicking may also be an effective means for control. In the morning, drop the adult and larvae forms into a bucket filled with soapy water. For chemical controls, please visit the local extension office in your area. They will be glad to give you recommendations of insecticides to apply for controlling the potato beetle.