Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:28 pm
Fried potatoes, boiled potatoes, baked with cheese as a gratin or as homemade French fries: The potato is incredibly versatile. We show how you can plant potatoes yourself – in the bed and on the balcony.
Europe is known worldwide as the “potato-eating country,” although the tuber originated in South America. There is evidence that the Incas cultivated the potato as early as 7,000 years before Christ.
In the beginning, the cultivation and harvesting of the potato tuber proved to be difficult, as the population simply did not know how to do it. Apart from that, it was not quite clear that eating it raw was, firstly, not very tasty, and secondly, quite harmful to the organism.
Below we explain how to plant and harvest potatoes yourself. Whether on the balcony or in the garden.
When is the right time to plant potatoes?
When exactly is the right time to plant potatoes depends a little on the variety. The seed potatoes offered in stores are particularly suitable for this, alternatively you can also take conventional organic potatoes. In general, however, quite ordinary table potatoes can also be planted. However, keep in mind that most varieties are treated with a sprout-inhibiting agent to prevent germination during storage.
Potatoes are planted as soon as the soil temperature is at least seven degrees. Roughly speaking, this is the case from about April. Frost does not agree with the potato plantlets, so in the early days, if necessary, you should cover them with a frost-protective fleece. Only when the soil is constantly ten degrees and above, it no longer needs it.
Potatoes that are not planted until May will benefit from temperatures that are already much higher.
Do you need to pre-sprout potatoes?
Theoretically, potatoes do not need to be pre-sprouted. However, if you do, the tuber plant will grow much more robustly and the yield will potentially be larger. If you want to pre-sprout your potatoes, you can start doing so as early as March.
To pre-sprout potatoes, proceed like this:
Fill a box with about three to five inches of growing soil.
Place the (planting) potatoes in it so that half of them are in the soil and half are sticking out.
Now place the box in a location that is about 20 °C warm and, above all, bright.
As soon as the potatoes begin to germinate, i.e. small green tips form, it is time to plant them. This usually takes ten to 14 days.
Planting potatoes – location and soil
It is essential that the soil be well-drained. Potatoes are extremely sensitive to waterlogging. If the intended soil is too heavy, be sure to mix it with sand, expanded clay or the like beforehand. Dig the soil thoroughly and remove stones and any root weeds. Potatoes are absolutely highly nutritious. Be sure to work fertilizer into the soil in advance.
Horn shavings, for example, are ideal beforehand, as potatoes benefit from the high nitrogen content of organic fertilizer. What else you need to consider when using horn shavings as fertilizer and what it is also suitable for, read here.
Alternatively, you can also incorporate compost or a nitrogenous fertilizer preparation from the trade.
Even though potatoes officially belong to the so-called “nightshade plants”, you should definitely choose a full-sun location.
In the outdoor bed as well as in the raised bed, draw a planting furrow ten to 15 centimeters deep. Put the potatoes (pre-sprouted or not) in it and cover them with some soil. The furrow does not necessarily need to be completely filled back in. The potatoes can still protrude a little from the soil. Only when the potatoes continue to sprout, gradually cover them with soil until the furrows are leveled again.
In the planting bag or planter box on the balcony, proceed slightly differently:
Fill the planting bag about halfway with soil.
Place the potato seedlings on top.
If the potatoes now start to grow, continually add soil until you have about ten centimeters more soil in the planter than at the beginning.
When planting the potatoes, keep in mind that the plants will later require quite a lot of space. In open ground, you should therefore leave a distance of at least 30 centimeters from potato to potato within a row. In turn, the individual rows are better to pull at a distance of 60, preferably 70 centimeters from each other.
In the planting bag, place potatoes so that they have at least ten centimeters of space around them.
Caring for potato plants
Be sure to keep the potato seedlings from frost. If in doubt, it is better to cover them with a frost-protective fleece. Once the plants are about twenty centimeters high, mound the soil well around them. In the open field, this is best done by making another furrow between each planting area and pushing the soil to the right and left of each potato plant.
Always make sure your potatoes are adequately watered. They should not stand dry, but waterlogging is not good either. Especially on hot days, it is advisable to water the potatoes extensively early in the morning (preferably before the sun shines fully on them).
When watering, be sure to leave out the leaves. Generally, this will not harm the plant, but it will encourage late blight and the like.
Potatoes are extremely demanding on nutrients. However, if they have already sprouted, it is better not to dig up the soil again generously to incorporate horn shavings and the like. Better is a liquid fertilizer, which is administered via the watering.
Either a special preparation from the trade is suitable for this, or you make the fertilizer yourself. How to make fertilizer yourself, read here.
Depending on the variety, whether you have pre-sprouted the potatoes, the location and when you planted the potatoes, the time of harvest also differs.
Potato planting bags and boxes are often offered with a small “window” near the bottom of the container. However, through it is not always possible to see anything. Anyway, there is a much clearer indication of when it is time to harvest potatoes.
Roughly speaking, potatoes need about three months. You can tell if they are ready by the fact that the leaves begin to turn yellow-brown and wither. However, better be patient and do not harvest at the very first sign. It is better to wait until this discoloration is clearly visible.
To test, carefully dig up just one potato at first. If the green can be easily removed and the tubers are large enough, you have caught the right moment. In the bed, a digging fork is best suited for harvesting potatoes.
However, do not proceed too impetuously. Otherwise, you run the risk of individual potato tubers detaching from the plant while it is still in the ground and remaining there or being forgotten. This can be a problem if you want to plant another potato in the same place next year.
The potato that remains in the soil may start to germinate again in the spring when temperatures rise, and it may take nutrients away from the seedlings that were actually planted.
Harvesting potatoes from de planter is a little easier:
Cut off the surface potato weeds.
Spread a tarp or a few sheets of newspaper on the ground and empty the entire planter.
Spread everything out well on the display area.
Collect the individual tubers and, if necessary, cut off individual root threads that still connect the tubers.
The potting soil is usually too depleted to be used again. If you still want to avoid disposing of the substrate, it is better to store it in a separate container. This can be used in a mixing ratio of at least 1:3 together with fresh soil when repotting plants that have very low nutrient requirements.
By the way, it is better not to dispose of the cut potato weed (whether from the bed or from the planter on the balcony) in the ordinary composter. Potato weed tends to develop diseases and attract pests. Optimal disposal is through a green waste collection point.
Alternatively, you can destroy potato weed by means of so-called potato fires. In doing so, however, it is essential that you find out in advance whether burning green waste is permitted where you live and, if so, what conditions you must observe.
Planting and harvesting potatoes yourself is not difficult, but it’s not a no-brainer either. Often it does not succeed at the first attempt. However, don’t be discouraged by this and simply try again next year.