Today we are interested in growing potatoes.
Potatoes grow well in all soil types, provided they contain sufficient organic matter.
Potato growing methods
The cultivation of potatoes can be viewed in different ways…
The land is worked, preferably with Campagnole or Grelinette.
Then, shortly before planting, add mature compost at a rate of 40 to 50 kg per 10 m² (about a wheelbarrow and ).
To promote the development of tubers and limit the risk of greening, the rows of potatoes will be piled up.
This way of growing potatoes, making work and harvesting easier, is also beneficial for soil life.
So it has more and more adherents in permaculture.
The potato tubers are simply placed on the ground (mowed beforehand, possibly covered with cardboard, then with very ripe compost).
The crop is then covered with a thick layer of straw or hay.
I develop this method here.
potato tower fashion
Another method is very popular among permaculturists… potato towers.
Well, it’s a technique that gets a lot of views on Youtube (to the delight of the Youtubers who present it)… but I dare you to find videos of good harvests (while some are talking about 100 kg of crops… . in a volume that can hold up to 10 or 20!)
And for good reason, it can’t work properly. The foliage (except that of the upper tubers) remains without light and due to a lack of photosynthesis, the tubers do not (or barely) develop.
Well, if you only have a balcony or a terrace to cultivate, you will have the pleasure of harvesting a few potatoes… But if your goal is to ensure a real production, forget this method.
Potato cultivation places high demands on fertilization.
Whether in conventional cultivation or under straw, a large stock (40 to 50 kg for 10 m², or about a wheelbarrow and ) of mature compost is welcome a few days before planting.
In conventional cultivation, the compost is superficially integrated into the soil, while with straw cultivation it is simply spread directly on top of the previously mown soil (or boxes).
In the absence of compost, a commercially available organic fertilizer can be used (observe the dosages indicated on the bags).
Adding potash (mulching with comfrey leaf and/or comfrey root, beetroot vinasse or patenkali, for example) is then useful to promote the development of the tubers. These potash fertilizers should therefore preferably be added during cultivation (about 1 month after planting).
When and how to plant potatoes?
We proceed by planting selected tubers, either purchased from a garden center or better yet from an organic plant producer (e.g. Payzons Ferme), or perfectly healthy plants from your previous production. If this fails, it is possible to use commercial potatoes (preferably organic, knowing that “conventional” potatoes are generally treated with anti-germ).
About a month before the planting date, place the seedlings in a lighted, ventilated area, protected from frost, to germinate (see the article on germinating potatoes here).
New potatoes are planted in February/March, usually under cover.
In April/May, ware potatoes are planted.
Traditionally, they are grown in rows 50 to 70 cm apart.
When growing under straw, simply place the potatoes 30-50 cm apart on the ground.
In conventional cultivation, before planting potatoes, you can dig a groove (15-20 cm deep) and put the tubers in it, sprouting up, also 30-50 cm along the line.
I go simpler, as I show in this short video:
Hoe between the rows as they emerge, then quickly make a first “little” mound (especially if the Ice Saints – May 11, 12 and 13 – haven’t passed) by covering the foliage. This protects the young shoots from any frost.
3 weeks after emergence hill again, this time much more consistent.
In order to limit evaporation, especially if the potato harvest is a bit late, a litter, for example with comfrey leaf (potassium supply) can be spread.
These first 3 maintenance phases apply to a classic potato crop. They do not need to be grown under straw (the straw, which is in place from the start of cultivation, prevents weed growth and acts like a mound).
It makes no sense to water at the beginning of vegetation.
On the other hand, if it does not rain, watering from flowering is recommended so that the tubers can grow well.
But stop watering at least a week before harvest (so that the tubers do not become soggy, which is important for preservation but also for taste).
Potato Pests and Diseases
Common potato pests and diseases are covered in detail in specific articles. I invite you to click on the links (in blue) below to learn how to avoid these dangers.
Downy mildew is a common cryptogamic disease, especially when the weather is rainy, on a potato crop. Preventive measures will be useful to limit the risks of developing the disease.
Also note that some varieties are more resistant than others to downy mildew, either at the foliage level or at the tuber level (here is an article devoted to this topic).
The Colorado potato beetle is the main potato pest. The culture can be totally destroyed by a massive attack…
Wireworms, or rather their larvae, can also seriously affect tubers.
The potato harvest
When to harvest potatoes?
You can harvest potatoes in bloom (the yield will then be quite low, but the taste quality is very interesting, especially for new potatoes).
Potatoes intended for preservation are harvested in dry weather (the soil must also be perfectly drained) when the vegetation has completely withered.
How to harvest potatoes?
The Grelinette makes it possible to harvest efficiently, without the risk of damaging the tubers.
Just place the tool a little behind the cutting line. Get your teeth into it and lift up.
Feel free to leave the buds on the ground.
Here’s a crop of Belle de Fontenay new potatoes (leaves haven’t wilted yet):
How to store potatoes?
To store well, potato tubers must be healthy.
By “healthy” I mean free of diseases (especially cryptogam – spots are generally visible on the skin), and not inhabited by larvae or insects (holes often visible).
So eat the damaged potatoes first, they will not stay well.
And keep perfectly healthy piles (e.g. in crates), in a dry, cool place (but frost-free) and protected from light (barn, storage room, attic).
Your experiences, observations and questions about growing potatoes are welcome in the comments section below.