Potatoes are a favorite vegetable and mealtime staple. They’re also a fun introduction to gardening for kids.
In the Sacramento area, potatoes may be planted through early June. Start with “seed potatoes,” small potatoes or cut mature potatoes containing at least one or two eyes or buds. You can use sprouted potatoes from the supermarket as “seed potatoes,” although those may not have the same disease resistance as new certified seed potatoes available at nurseries or via mail order.
Potatoes, a relative of tomatoes, are easy to grow. They need full sun and do best in well-drained, loamy soil. Don’t plant in soggy or waterlogged soil; the potatoes will rot before sprouting.
To give your potatoes a head start, expose the seed potatoes for a few days to warmth (60 to 70 degrees) and lots of light, such as inside a sunny window. This will trigger quick sprouting.
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Plant them eye-side up in a large pot or container filled with potting soil mixed with compost or aged manure. (A 20-gallon plastic trash can with holes punched in the bottom for drainage will work.) When the potatoes are ready to harvest, dump the pot and sort the potatoes from the soil.
Or “cage” your spring potatoes. Plant the potatoes on a mound surrounded by chicken wire. As the vines sprout and grow, repeatedly cover them with straw and compost inside the chicken wire cage, so only the top leaves are above this mulchy medium. The potatoes will grow inside the cage, mostly above actual ground level. When harvest time comes, they’re easy to find; just undo the cage and gently sift through the contents.
Keep any potatoes that poke through the surface covered with mulch or soil; otherwise, they’ll turn green and bitter.
When will they be ready to harvest? When the vines yellow and die back, wait two weeks – then start digging. This could be as soon as 10 weeks. If harvested that early, those new potatoes will be small – but tasty.
▪ Also in the vegetable garden now, plant seeds for beets, carrots, celery, chard, endive, fennel, jicama, mustard, radish, spinach and turnips.