Growing potatoes in your garden

Potato production can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience for the home gardener.

Few vegetables yield more food per square foot than the potato. A 100-foot row can yield more than 200 pounds of potatoes.

The average potato provides 40 percent of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin C, has three grams of protein, is an excellent source of dietary fiber, and furnishes 12 other essential vitamins and minerals — all with no fat. Potatoes add diversity, versatility and convenience to menus. Skin color does not determine a potato’s use, its texture does. Potatoes that are high in starch or dry matter are mealier. They tend to bake up nicely and make good fries and chips. Those low in starch are waxier and often higher in sugar. These varieties hold together better during boiling and are best used for salads, soups and similar dishes. The two species available through the Extension Office are Yukon Gold and Sangre.

• Yukon Gold potatoes have an oblong tuber shape with buff skin and yellow flesh. They tend to be high yielding and are used for baking, mashing and roasting. Yukon Golds generally have an attractive appearance and a good flavor which make them suitable for many culinary uses.

• Sangre potatoes are a round type tuber with dark red skin. They tend to be high yielding and are used mostly for baking, boiling, and for salads. The Sangre was developed in Colorado. They may emerge erratically and tend to develop a slight net in some soils. Sangres store well and have excellent cooking quality.

Plant potatoes up to two weeks earlier than the average date of the last spring frost. The average date of the last spring frost is June 19. The soil temperature should be 45 degrees or warmer. Potatoes prefer a sandy to sandy loam soil. Till the soil to a depth of 16 inches and pre-irrigate the soil until moist. You need about 15 pounds of seed for each 100 feet of row.

Plant potatoes in rows 30 to 36 inches apart. Space seed pieces within the row at 10 to 12 inches at a depth of about 4 inches. Hills may be formed at the time of planting or in the following four weeks. Hilling provides more space for the developing tubers to grow and helps prevent green potatoes. It is a good idea to rotate spots in the garden for potato production. Planting in the same area year after year may lead to disease and insect problems. Keep soil moist but not wet. Potatoes require abundant oxygen and do not flourish in compacted soils. Generally, potatoes have a shallow root system. Most moisture is taken up from the top foot of soil. Be particularly careful to avoid over watering during the first weeks after planting. After plants have emerged, irrigate every three to five days, thoroughly wetting the soil to a depth of about 2 feet.

Treat insect pests with insecticides or, for those preferring organic controls, with insecticidal soaps. Common insects in home gardens include aphids, flea beetles, psyllids and, in some areas, Colorado potato beetles. Potato diseases may be seed-borne or acquired during the growing season. Many diseases can be avoided by using certified seed. Remove plants that are small, yellowing and sickly. Commonly encountered diseases in the garden include scab, early blight, pink rot and black scurf.

Plants mature and begin to die about 70 to 100 days after planting, depending upon variety. As plants mature, they use less water. To promote skin set, leave tubers in the ground for 10 to 21 days following vine death. This decreases bruising during harvest and permits better storage. Harvest when the soil temperature is 50 to 65 degrees. Store potatoes in a cool, dark and humid place. Air circulation through the pile of potatoes is desirable. Potato tubers are living, breathing vegetables. Storage sites are not potato “hospitals” but rather “hotels.” Potato quality does not improve with storage. Proper care at harvest can prevent many storage related problems. Cure the tubers at 50 to 60 degrees for two to three weeks, and then cool to the desired storage temperature. Most gardeners store their crop at 38 to 45 degrees and 90 percent or higher humidity. Do not allow condensation to form on tuber surfaces — it may lead to rot problems. Tubers stored in this manner will not sprout for approximately three months. Do not store potatoes with fruit. Apples, for instance, give off a growth-regulating gas, ethylene, which promotes sprouting of potato tubers.

Contact the Extension Office at 264-5931 for more information concerning planting potatoes or if you are interested in purchasing seed potatoes. Currently we are charging 40 cents per pound for Sangre and Yukon Gold. Those of you who are just starting out and are experimenting, it is our suggestion that you order two to three pounds of each species instead of ordering a whole lot of them. This way you can see if you like them and then order more next year. When orders arrive in at the Extension Office each person will be contacted to pick up their order. If you are interested in ordering seed potatoes please call, e-mail us at archuleta@ext.colostate.edu or stop by the Extension Office. Orders should be available the second week of May.

Calendar

April 9 — 10 a.m., Gardening Class — Getting’ Your Hands Dirty.

April 9 — Noon, Mountain View Homemakers.

April 9 — 2 p.m., Gardening Class — Getting’ Your Hands Dirty.

April 9 — 6 p.m., Dog Obedience project.

April 9 — 7 p.m., Dog Agility project.

April 10 — Noon, Office closes.

April 10 — 1:30 p.m., Cloverbuds Club meeting.

April 10 — 2:15 p.m., Wolf Creek Wonders Club meeting.

April 14 — 5:30 p.m., Vet Science project.

April 14 — 6 p.m., Rocky Mountain Riders Club meeting.

April 15 — 10 p.m., Mountain High Gardeners

April 14 — 4 p.m., Sportsfishing project.

Check out our Web page at www.archuleta.colostate.edu for calendar events and information.