The Secret to Truly Healthy Potatoes
Potatoes, like most edibles, can be easy prey to garden pests and disease. To help them naturally fend off attacks, a good strategy is to eliminate as much stress as possible. You can do this by:
- Choosing a site with good drainage
- Amending the planting trench with compost
- Siting your plants in a spot that gets at least six hours of sun each day
- Watering your plants deeply, yet infrequently during dry weather; ideally one inch per/week
While all of this can help immensely, there is one trick that gardeners rely on to keep potato plants nice and healthy; Foliar Feeding.
Foliar feeding is simply the practice of spraying liquid plant food on both sides of your plant leaves.
The easiest way to accomplish this, is to fill a spray bottle with properly diluted plant food. A great choice for potatoes is a sea mineral blend, made up of both fish and seaweed fertilizers, such as Neptune's Harvest.
You'll want to apply the spray:
- Once every two weeks, or once per month, or once a season if that's all you can pull off - it will still be worth it!
- Early in the day when leaf stomata (similar to skin pores) are the most open. Again, if it ends up being later in the day or during the evening, go for it. It's better to do it than not!
- Ideally, on a dry day
You'll be the spraying the equivalent of a well-balanced nutrition shake. If you have access to a pressurized sprayer, that will make the job even easier. However, you'll need to be sure that no harmful chemicals previously occupied the sprayer.
Harvesting and Storing Potatoes
You'll know that your potatoes are ready to harvest after the plants die off. Sadly, pre-harvest time is not always a very pretty occasion in the garden, but it is a sign that your yummy potatoes are ready to be pulled!
Ideally, your soil is nice and loose, making harvesting an easy chore. You may even be able to use your hands to dig around and find loose tubers. Admittedly, this works well when the soil is dry, but if you've had lots of rain forget it - you'll need some helpful tools.
Pulling the whole plant up is the first step, but you'll also need to scavenge around to find any extra spuds. The best tool to use is a long-handled, pronged fork, like a pitch fork. Approach your hill from the side, wiggle the fork underneath the soil and lift upwards, sifting the potatoes up through the loose dirt.
Some potatoes, such as new potatoes and fingerlings, are grown for their fresh, gourmet taste. These potatoes generally have a thinner skin and will not keep for very long.
Others, such as Kennebecs and Russets are selected for their long-term storage qualities. These potatoes usually have a thicker skin and should always be stored in the dark.
Potatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator. While the fridge is dark, the ultra-low temperature and humidity force a potato's starch to turn to sugar, causing both discoloration and an unpleasant taste when cooked.
While all potatoes need to be kept away from sunlight, the short term keepers usually get eaten before the situation becomes dire. Because they don't hold as long, you can count them as exceptions to the 'no refrigeration' rule.
Spuds that need to be stored throughout the cold season will need to be kept dark, cool, and dry. A basement, root cellar, or the coldest room of an old farmhouse will usually do the trick. If you don't have any of these options available, you'll have to improvise - try dresser drawers, locations against a north wall in your house, or even a drink cooler.
To keep your potatoes firm and sprout-free, store them with a few apples.
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