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Time to plant seed potatoes for a bumper summer crop

The Yukon Gold seed potato, above, has several eyes or baby plants.

By Bobbie Whitehead

Want to grow your own spuds? March is a good time to plant some.

For farmers and gardeners interested in growing potatoes this year, the Virginia Cooperative Extension suggests planting an early crop from March 15 to April 20.

Home gardeners as well as professional growers don’t have to settle for just the white potatoes either. Garden centers, markets and seed shops have potato sets for varieties such as Yukon Gold and Red Pontiacs as well as popular white potatoes.

Some markets have seed potatoes, whole potatoes with several “eyes” or baby plants sprouting from the potato. Before planting, gardeners will cut the potatoes into sections, trying to have baby plants on each section.
Gardeners may also find some precut potato sets. For growers cutting their own seed pieces, the Cooperative Extension suggests letting the cut pieces cure before planting.

For growers cutting their own seed pieces, the Cooperative Extension suggests letting the cut pieces cure before planting and notes that a six-ounce potato should yield about four seed pieces.

And for those who’ve never planted potatoes before, Howard Piland of B&H Produce, who grows and sells potatoes, said in planting the potato seed, make sure the eye of the potato faces upward. This allows the plant to grow straight up through the soil.

“Also, make sure you have cut a good piece from the potato,” Piland said.

To assure a good planting, Piland said if he has three eyes on one section of the potato, he cuts the potato so the eyes are together when planted.

Plant potatoes about six-to-eight inches in the ground, Piland said.

“I plant mine somewhat deep since my land is sandy,” he said. “But if the soil isn’t sandy, you wouldn’t plant as deep because the soil might get compacted and interfere with the potato growth.”

Once the plants have sprouted and potatoes begin to form, Piland said he “hills” the potatoes, which is layering the soil on top of the potatoes, to prevent the potatoes from burning in the sun.

Potatoes, like many vegetables, should be planted where they’ll receive plenty of sun. But the tuber requires soil that has adequate drainage. Too much moisture and water can cause the potato to rot and exposes it to diseases.

The Cooperative Extension suggests growing potatoes in “straw or leaf beds above ground” if the soil has too much clay in it.

“This requires 2-3 feet of organic matter and more frequent watering than in ground production but produces clean, easily dug tubers,” according to the Cooperative Extension’s guide on growing potatoes.

Not sure how much to grow? The Cooperative Extension suggests 15 pounds of seed potatoes for each person, which should produce about 75-100 pounds of potatoes. But depending on your climate, if you’re not in Virginia, you may want to plant another crop for the fall for storage.

Though not among the top potato-producing states, Virginia growers in 2008 planted 5,800 acres of potatoes, and commercial potato acreage decreased slightly from 2006 to 2008, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Despite the slight decrease, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services lists potatoes among the state’s top 20 farm commodities.

Interesting enough, potatoes apparently have served Virginia farmers well in the past. According to the Virginia Agricultural Statistics Service, state growers planted 119,000 acres of potatoes in 1930.
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