It’s St. Patrick’s Day – Time to Plant Potatoes
Gardening was one of my mother’s favorite activities. She would stay outside in her backyard garden all day, only coming in for short breaks or for lunch. I will admit that there were times that she napped in a lounge chair out in her garden, so she wasn’t working the whole day, but she did get a lot done and her garden was a wonderful oasis.
She loved to plant early spring crops such as peas, onions, cole crops, and potatoes. For the potatoes she insisted that she would have more success with her crop if they were planted on St. Patrick’s Day. She said her mother always planted them on St. Patrick’s Day, so she did, too, explaining that being of Irish decent it only made sense to plant on the day honoring the patron saint of Ireland.
Well, this might have been perfectly logical to her, but not to me, so I thought I’d try to find why this tradition got started in our family. The National Wildlife Federation did report that in Ireland it is a tradition to plant a garden on St. Patrick’s Day, but they don’t give any information to explain why. Reading a few more blogs and websites I have found that using St. Patrick’s Day as a day to plant potatoes is just an easy way for people to remember when to plant. Meaning early spring.
There are other crops that have reminders of when to plant, such as “plant corn when oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear,” and “plant peas when forsythia blooms.” While this might seem a bit whacky, there are scientific reasons why we might want to plant potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day or plant peas when the forsythia blooms. It is known as phenology, which is the study of the relationships between biological events. People have been recording plant events for centuries, making note of when fruit trees bloom or when soil warmth will allow a corn seed to germinate instead of rot in the ground. These events have been recorded and while it might not always make sense for us, there is scientific fact to back it up.
So, I do plan to plant my potatoes on St. Patrick’s day, because it is a family tradition, and because science backs it up.
Potato Planting Guidelines
- Buy you seed potatoes a week or so before you want to plant them. I try to select potatoes that are not too large, about the size of my fist or smaller.
- Cut the potatoes into smaller pieces, making sure each piece has at least one eye (the eye is where the potatoes will sprout, and are the indented spots on the potato). For very small potatoes, leave them whole.
- Lay the cut pieces in a single layer cut side up to allow them to dry out for a few days. This step is to keep the potatoes from rotting in the ground. My mother always put the pieces in a grocery bag and sprinkled garden Sulphur into the bag and gently shook it to cover the pieces of potato with Sulphur, and then laid them out to dry. I have planted potatoes with and without this Sulphur dusting step and had good results both ways.
- Place the trays or boxes of potatoes in a cool spot, out of the weather but where they will be cool. I keep them in an unheated garage so they will be exposed to nighttime cool temperatures.
- Prepare your bed by spading or tilling it up, so the ground is loose. Adding compost to the bed will help your yield.
- Plant the potatoes about 18 inches apart about two inches deep. I usually plant two rows per bed, spacing them at the 18” distance.
- Water them in.
When the potato leaves start to poke through the ground cover them with a thin layer of straw.
As the potatoes grow you can add straw or compost over the plants. This is supposed to make potatoes form in the straw, but my experience does not bear this out, I still only harvested potatoes at ground level even with two feet of straw covering the plants. I have since switched to using compost and have had much better results.
May you have the Luck of the Irish with your potatoes!
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- Phenology - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
More information on phenology.
- Wisconsin Horticulture | UW-Extension Cooperative Extension
Information on phenology.
- Go Green with a St. Patricks Day Garden - National Wildlife Federation
A link to the National Wildlife Federation's website encouraging the planting of a spring garden.
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