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In almost any part of the country, the home gardener with
sufficient garden space and a cool, dark storage cellar may grow
and store potatoes organically by the moon phase method. Until
recently potatoes could be grown only in cool areas, but now
with improved varieties and better cultural techniques, they can
be grown where summers are fairly hot if they are sufficiently
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Potatoes need a moist, acidic soil with a pH of less than 6. Soils with a higher pH tend to harbor
potato scab, a fungal disease that lives in the soil for many years. On the other hand, potatoes
grown in extremely acidic soils are often small and of poor quality though free of scab.
Before deciding where to plant potatoes, test the soil in several places on your property. If it is all
too alkaline, try growing a green manure crop and plowing it under the autumn before seeding.
Or, add pine needles or other acidic plant material to the soil.
Fresh manure must never be used on potato land. If well-rotted manure is used, it should be
plowed or raked under the topsoil the autumn before planting. For a 100-foot row, use ten
wheelbarrow-loads of rotted manure and mix it in well so that it does not burn the tubers.
Seed potatoes certified free of disease may be purchased from seed dealers. Unless the
gardener has been able to save some of his own which he knows are healthy, certified seed
potatoes are safest to plant. The best ones are small and do not need cutting. Each potato, or
piece, should contain one or more eyes and weigh one to two ounces.
If cutting is necessary, make certain that plenty of flesh remains around the eyes since plants
must live on this stored food while sprouting. Cut seed should be allowed to dry 24 hours before
Depending on the size and the number of eyes, five to eight pounds of potatoes are needed to
plant a 100-foot row. The trenches or drills are five inches deep and the pieces of tuber are
placed every 12 or 14 inches. Early varieties are planted about two weeks before the last killing
frost. Late varieties may be planted to mature as late as the first fall frost. Early crops, growing
while the weather is still cool, are less likely to be bothered by disease than late varieties. Seed
for late crops should always be chosen from the disease-resistant strains.
As soon as planting is finished, a mulch of straw or hay ten to 12 inches deep should be applied.
This will keep the soil moist and cool, and foster healthy potatoes.
A popular method of growing potatoes above the soil is to plant them on leaves with a cover of
mulch. Leaves are piled over the potato patch the previous fall to a depth of three feet and left
there for the winter. By spring they have packed down and earthworms are working through them.
Potatoes are planted by laying the pieces directly on the leaves, in rows where they are to grow.
The seed is then covered with 12 to 14 inches of hay or straw. More mulch is added later, if
tubers appear through the mulch. When harvest time comes, the mulch is pulled back and
potatoes are picked up and put into their sacks, with no digging necessary. Pests are deterred by
the mulch system.
Insufficient potash in soil can result in potatoes which become soggy when cooked. A potash
deficiency can be corrected by adding about 1/4 pound per square foot of a natural potash
mineral such as greensand, granite dust or pulverized feldspar to the soil. These natural minerals
also contain the trace elements which are essential to normal healthy growth.
A good fertilizer for potatoes may be made by mixing one part cottonseed meal, one part dried
fish meal, one part bone meal, two parts greensand, and two parts ground phosphate rock.
In the garden, the insects and diseases injurious to potato plants can be controlled by removing
insects as soon as they appear, giving them no chance to breed. The Colorado potato beetle and
red slugs appear frequently. Sometimes blister beetles enter the garden and raise havoc among
the potato plants. In the small garden, it is wise to place handpicked pests in containers of
kerosene.There are about 60 diseases of potato plants, but many of them are local and
unimportant. Where the air is particularly moist and cool, early blight may kill the vines. Late blight
may also occur and cause tuber rot. Unusually warm, dry weather may result in tip-burn or
hopper-bum which destroys the foliage. Common scab is disfiguring to the potato and can be
avoided by keeping the soil acid. Applications of lime or wood ashes should not be used if this is
to be accomplished.
Potatoes are ready for harvest when the majority of the tops have withered. Early potatoes may
be dug for table use at any time. But for storage, the potatoes should be fully mature. They may
be left in the ground as much as four to six weeks if the weather is not too warm or too wet.
After they are dug they should be allowed to dry as quickly as possible, and then
should immediately be stored in a cool dark place. Stored in the light, they may turn
green, and greened potatoes should not be eaten.
Kennebec and Katandin are recommended as late potatoes resistant to late blight
and certain virus diseases, but not to scab. New Norland and Norgold Russet are
resistant to scab and are very heavy producers as are Superior and Chieftain. Irish
Cobbler and White Cobbler are old favorites grown in all states and considered
excellent choices for home gardeners. Russet Burbank is widely grown in the
Northwest, but, because it tends to produce misshapen tubers, it is not
recommended for the amateur grower