February is a busy month for vegetable gardeners. It’s an ideal time to begin making preparations for a spring garden, and there is still time to get cool-season crops — such as turnips, broccoli and carrots — in the ground.
Even for novices, potatoes are an easy crop to plant, harvest and enjoy with our families. Consider planting potatoes with the little ones in your life. They will be surprised to see what a french fry plant looks like!
Some of the more experienced gardeners swear that Valentine’s Day is the ideal time to plant potatoes. While potatoes do like cool temperatures, they don’t respond well to cold, wet soils or late freezes. Soil temperatures should be at least 45 degrees at 4 inches deep. Check out local soil temperatures at georgiaweather.net before settling on the planting date.
Choose a well-drained, sunny location. Complete a soil test if you haven’t already. Potatoes prefer more acidic soils, between 4.8 and 5.4 pH. Do not apply lime unless instructed to do so with a soil report. Alkaline soils, with a higher pH, can promote a bacterial disease called scab. Fertilize according to soil test recommendations. Water regularly, especially during the first few months
Locally, you can find seed potatoes at Minton’s (on Pio Nono Avenue), Karsten Denson (on Ingleside Avenue), as well as some of the larger stores. Be sure to buy certified seed potatoes, when possible. It is best not to start plants from potatoes in your pantry. Many times, they’ve been treated to reduce germination or are varieties that will not do well in Middle Georgia.
Potatoes come in red, white, purple and yellow-flesh varieties. Red LaSoda or Red Pontiac are common cultivars of red potatoes; Kennebec and Irish Cobbler are common white potato cultivars; and Yukon Gold is a common yellow flesh cultivar. The white potatoes will take longer to grow than the red varieties but should store better.
If the potatoes have not yet sprouted, store them in a warm room until the eyes sprout slightly. Potatoes are planted by cutting into pieces and planting “seed pieces.” Cut these pieces so that they have at least one eye (preferable two) on them. Each piece should weigh at least as much as a small egg. Pieces should be allowed to dry and heal for a day prior to planting. This process may keep the seed pieces from rotting once planted.
Plant the seed potatoes 4-5 inches deep with about 10-15 inches between pieces. Closer spacing will mean smaller potatoes. Be sure to plant so that the eyes are facing up. When the sprouts are about 6 inches tall, begin to hill the soil around them. Be careful not to dig too deeply and injure roots.
Start harvesting “new potatoes” when flowers first appear. Dig mature potatoes as vines begin to turn yellow and brown. Potatoes don’t last long here, so dig them gently and at the right time. If you want to store them, let them cure for one to two weeks for the skins to thicken. Then store them in a cool, dry, dark place.
For more information about planting potatoes, varieties or potato problems, visit extension.uga.edu and search “growing potatoes” or contact your local Cooperative Extension office.
▪ Planting a Spring Vegetable Garden: 10 a.m.-noon Feb. 18. Come learn the basics to get going with a backyard vegetable garden. $5. Bibb County Extension office, 145 First St. Register by calling 478-751-6338 or emailing email@example.com.
▪ Waddell Barnes Botanical Gardens Spring Garden Symposium: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Feb. 25. Topic: “Encouraging and Protecting Pollinators.” $40. Middle Georgia State University, Macon campus. Visit mga.edu/botanical for more information.
Contact county Extension agent Karol Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.