The vegetable part that we consume is grown as a tuber on the perennial plant Solanum tuberosum. As the name implies it is a tuberous plant which means that by it's structure it naturally creates enlarged stores of nutrients called a tuber or tubers within the soil. In this particular instance those enlarged stores are the savory and nutritious parts we consume. The tubers are mainly produced to prolong the plants life through the tough seasons. As it's top foliage will inevitably die back. It's tubers beneath the ground survive and with their stored energy from the previous growing season will re-sprout come the following spring. This is why your gone off, old potatoes start to produce those weird prickly, spiky things. Those are the new shoots attempting to resprout with the energy stored in the potatoe from whence they were grown.
The potatoe is a fairly hardy plant, by this what is meant is that it can survive quite a lot of damage from pests or the elements etc and still produce a decent crop. Although this doesn't mean damage caused won't reduce overall yield. It's because of this characteristic I encourage most folks to try growing potatoes. In my garden they flourish like weeds. Sometimes it's hard not to grow them!
How do you grow potatoes? Well by far, the easiest most practical and productive way of growing potatoes is in large containers or big planters. They grow just as well in the ground or in raised beds however they're far more easier to care for and maintain and also to harvest when grown within containers. For some reason using containers to grow potatoes has always given me a bigger yield as an additional result.
To chit your potatoes is quite simple. Just place some potatoes in a position with sunlight and good airflow. It's best to use seed potatoes as these are pretty much designed to be planted in the way we want. Although any potatoes can work well. You can buy seed potatoes at any good gardening store or even online.
Once your potatoes are showing new shoots it's time to get them in the ground! I would definitely advocate preparing your soil beforehand though. Personally, I just spread some well rotted compost and worm castings around my chosen spot or within the container I will be using along with adding a non excessive amount of bonemeal or fish blood and bone and then give it a good turn over and mix with the garden fork. If you do use some fertilizer always refer to the instructions given and never overfeed as this can do your plants more harm than good. I would advocate organic only fertilizers as, well, read my thoughts on the use of modern, chemical based fertilizers here organic-farming-vs-conventional-farming. Of course you don't have to bother with preparation all that much, however as potatoes are a particularly nutrient hungry crop it will certainly pay off by giving you an increased yield if you do manage to do it. Nevertheless you can still achieve a moderate yield for your efforts without much preparation. Especially if you're new.
When to grow potatoes. Potatoes are generally planted anywhere from early spring to early summer. Although it completely depends on your climate.If your planting potatoes directly in the ground you will want to firstly dig a hole at least a half a foot down. We do this because as the potatoe is a tuberous plant, the deeper and bigger the root system is the more tubers it will produce thus providing more food for us. Once your hole is dug simply place your sprouting potatoe down into your hole, with the sprouting part facing towards the sky and cover with dirt. Make sure to water every few days. You should start seeing life within 2 weeks. It's obviously more wise to dig a long deep trench and plant a row of potatoes but that all depends on your circumstances. One method people tend to use is to slowly pile dirt around the stem to create a small mound. This increases yield slightly depending on the size of the mound however if you've already planted your potatoes deeply they should produce a good crop regardless. This how others and even you can grow potatoes from potatoes!
If however you wish to grow potatoes in containers as I do then the method utilized is slightly different. The ideal container would be deep enough for a big root system and wide enough for the potatoes big foliage. A container about 2-3 feet high and with a diameter of 2-3 feet would be ideal. If you can't acquire such a container it doesn't matter that much, you can even use something simple like a bucket. What you do use, be sure to drill holes in the bottom to allow water to run off. You won't want dirty swamp water collecting at the bottom of your container!
Begin by filling your container with a thick layer of soil or compost. The layer has to be quite deep, a good few inches depending on your container size but not all the way full, leave the majority of the topside of the container empty. Push your potatoes a few inches into your partly filled container and then cover with another few inches of dirt. Be sure to water every few days. Once the potatoes are clearly producing foliage and have reached a height of at least 5 inches above the soil level you will want to cover the majority of the stem will another layer of compost or soil. Repeat this same process until your container is eventually full to the top with soil. As we're systematically covering the stem of the plant with soil it will continually convert into a root system. As you can imagine, planting potatoes this way will give us very big roots, which will reuslt in bigger tubers and of course, ultimately, an even bigger harvest!
Caring for your potatoes
Potatoes need not much care or maintenance. As they're a fairly hardy crop they can sustain quite a lot of harsh treatment. You shouldn't have to worry to much about weeds with potatoes as their foliage becomes so wide and bushy that it's very hard for weeds to grow beneath. You should never cut back or remove any of the potatoes foliage! It's those big bushy plants that will give you large potatoes. You should however, remove any flower buds that you see. This will force the plant to focus on growing big tubers instead of creating seeds.
You may want to give them a feed of some nutrients if you didn't prepare your soil before hand. Liquid fertilizers will do the job although you can find fertilizers in pellet or power form which you just sprinkle across the surface and let the rain break them down.
There's not much else you need do once your potatoes are well established. You may want to keep an eye out for any abnormalities that you may think aren't quite but besides that just let them grow and readily await the...
Harvesting potatoes is really simple. People generally harvest when the potatoes leaves are starting to die back but you can harvest anywhere from 10 to 20 weeks after planting. This is all dependent on how big you want your potatoes, and of course what time of year you planted. For smaller potatoes you can harvest from about 10-14 weeks but if you want larger, more fatter potatoes it's best to wait until around 18-20 weeks.
To harvest simply cut down all of the plants top foliage. Then with a garden fork careful dig down, be sure to keep a few inches away from the base of the plant (To avoid damaging any potatoes) lift, and turnover the soil and start collection 'em spuds! Just repeat this process until you think you've collected all the potatoes you can find. If you do damage any potatoes not all is lost just be sure to eat them that same day.
For harvesting potatoes in containers is very easy. Just tip the container upside down and rummage around in the soil. This is why I advocate growing in containers. It's so much simpler.
Before storing I like to leave them out in the sun for around an hour to allow the skins to harden. They're best stored in hessian sacks (The type of material you see sandbags made out of). Just put them out of the way of sunlight, in a dark cool place and they'll be fine. Remember to remove any potatoes that go green! These can be poisonous!
Well, that's it for my potatoes how to grow guide. I hope you give it a go!