Planting Heirloom Potatoes in the Fall Garden
There are so many more types of potatoes than you can buy in the store that choosing and planting heirloom potatoes can be a great adventure in colors and tastes.
Heirloom potatoes are the old fashioned potatoes that gardeners have been growing for years. While commercial growers stick with one type, small gardeners can plants many varieties of heirloom potatoes and experience many different varieties.
Another great reason for growing your own heirloom potatoes is the high toxin levels in commercially grown potatoes, and the high cost of organic potatoes. Heirloom potatoes are as easy to grow as regular potatoes and many times they are hardier.
If you live in zones below zone 7 planting them in a fall garden will actually give you better potatoes, with less pests and diseases, earlier in the season.
Planting Heirloom Potatoes in the Fall Garden
You will plant the potatoes just before the first frost date, or sometime in early November for most areas.
Potatoes are heavy feeders. They need a lot of nutrients and mulch to do well. In this way they are very much like tomatoes. Never plant potatoes in the same area that you previously grew tomatoes though! Because tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes are from the same family they are prone to the same diseases and pests... Planting them in the same area increases the chances of your potatoes not doing well.
An easy way to plant potatoes in a small space is to use a garbage bag! Just fill the bag about ¼ full with good soil mixed with compost. Add three or four seed potatoes with the new shoots pointing to the top. Be sure to poke a few holes in the bag for the water to drain out. Now, add enough soil and compost mixture to fill the bag halfway and water well. Keep the bag sheltered from frost. When the potatoes have begun to sprout through the top of the soil (about eight inches) add more soil and compost.
Always allow about two inches of the shoot to remain above the soil line. You can continue this until the bag is about full. By adding soil the plant is encouraged to produce more potatoes and the ones that have formed are protected from the sun.
You can do the same thing with trash cans, old tires, or even wooden frames that you can keep stacking up a little higher. Just remember to keep at least a few inches of plant above the soil line so that the plant can get the sunlight it needs.
If you wish to plant in rows then you will need to dig deep, ten inch trenches. Fill the bottom with a few inches of compost mixed with well rotted manure. Lay in your seed potatoes, about a foot apart, with the sprouts pointing upwards. Cover with a layer of compost and then fill with good soil. As the mulch breaks down over the winter months it will feed the potato plants and the potatoes will begin forming through the winter. The will often not sprout unless you have a very warm winter but the tiny potatoes will be growing underground.
Once the weather warms up enough in the spring the strong root system will quickly send up shoots and blossom into huge, healthy plants. With this method you will be able to harvest potatoes very early in the spring and may get two or three harvest periods a year.
How to Harvest Potatoes
Varieties of Heirloom Potatoes
There are numerous varieties of heirloom potatoes with more being discovered all the time. Some to try are:
- Arran Pilot - white fleshed.
- Arran Victory- circa World War I. Purple skin, white flesh.
- Belle de Fontenay- French. Pale yellow. Good keeper.
- French Fingerling-Pink skin with bicolor flesh.
- Yukon Gold- Golden flesh, buttery flavor.
- Austrian Crescent -Light yellow fingerling.
- Early Rose-Pink Skin, white flesh.
- Kerr's Pink- Pink skin, white flesh.
- Ozette- Introduced int he 1700s. Pale gold flesh.
- Garnet Chili-1853. Good keeper.
Where to Buy Heirloom Seed Potatoes
Growing your own heirloom potatoes and saving allowing some to become seed potatoes for the next season can be a rewarding hobby. By growing these old varieties they will not become extinct like so many other fruits and vegetables have.
It can be hard to find heirloom seed potatoes locally. Ordering them online can be frustrating, however, because many companies sell out quick. You may need to order for spring and keep some in a refrigerator for fall planting.
Here are a couple of varieties to try:
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