You can buy seed potatoes ( 'taters picked last year before they were matured) from a gardening center or mail order catalog. There are many different kinds, 5000 varieties in all. The reds I usually buy are Red Pontiac and the whites are Kennebec. But there are some with white insides, yellow insides and even blue insides. here are early, mid-season and late season varieties. The early kind are ready in 60 - 90 days, the midseason are harvestable in 90 - 115 days and the late guys are 115 - 140 days. Spuds are cool weather lovers which is why some of you may have trouble growing them in areas that get a really hot summer. Gardeners in these areas need to get a early to midseason variety and get them out of the ground before really hot weather arrives. Intense heat slows potato growth and the poor things stop making tubers. Diseases like hollow heart and pests like beetles and aphids can be a problem in those areas. Try a super early variety like Caribe, Red Norland, or Onaway. Red Gold or Yukon Gold will work too and have delicious yellow flesh. You should harvest spuds in late may or early June when us nothern gardeners are just getting started.

Some books recommend cutting large spuds with lots of eyes, but I think this invites disease. JMHO. My seed is stored over from last year and has lots of sprouts. I think these do better, if you can let your seed sprout for two weeks before planting you'll get more 'taters. Potatoes are not picky about the soil and do best if planted about 10 to 14 inches apart, but I have cheated and put them 8 inches apart with pretty good luck. Mulch is the most important secret. I dig a trench about 18 inches deep. Plant my seed 4 inches below that. Then as the plant grow, mulch all but the top two or three inches of the plants, keep pushing the dirt up to the stems and adding lots of mulch even to the point of creating hills around the plants. Which is why this is called hilling. The stems will send off roots and make more spuds for you. I find that inter-planting with onions will deter some pests. When it’s time to harvest , dig very carefully and don't nick the spuds. Don't wash them either, just allow to air dry and brush the dirt off very gently. Store in a cool place. Do not eat the green parts or any green potatoes. But you can plant green spuds next year. Oh, and I do pick off the flowers as I want the plant energy in the roots. Another method is to plant on top of the soil. If your soil is really bad or digging is hard for you, you can just toss your starter spuds on top of some mulch and cover them with 10 to 12 inches of fresh hay. Keep adding more mulch as the season progresses. When your ready to harvest just pull back the hay and pick up the spuds. You may want to try the method that grows potatoes in a barrel. But if you don't have a barrel you can do the same thing with some chicken wire and burlap or an old sheet. Form a circle out of the chicken wire, wrap the entire container in the burlap. Put six inches of soil and compost in the bottom. Place two or three seed potatoes on top of that, then cover it all with 4 more inches of soil and compost. Each week for the next six weeks put another layer of soil and mulch on top. Water twice a week (if it doesn't rain) to maintain even moisture, and feed your spud cage with compost tea every three weeks. When the foliage dies down your spuds are ready to harvest. Just open up the side and the potatoes fall out, no digging, and no damage to the tubers with the shovel.


Tips for new gardeners

Start small. Bedazzled by visions of garden-fresh veggies, it's easy for first-time gardeners to become overly ambitious. Avoid the temptation to rent a rototiller and tear  up the entire yard. Remember that every square foot of land you turn over in March will have to be tended throughout the season. Better to start with a small patch the  first year. (Even a 10-by-10-foot garden patch can grow a surprising quantity and variety of vegetables.) As the years pass, you can let the size of your garden grow along with your expertise and love of gardening.

Plan ahead. Successful gardeners do some of their most important work long before the first seed goes in the ground. They  spend time planning out their garden, figuring out what gets planted where and when. For the novice gardener, a few hours of study and forethought can help ensure a successful and enjoyable gardening experience.

There are a number of books offering high productivity, low maintenance gardening techniques for the urban food gardener. John Jeavons' How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine (Ten Speed Press). Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening (Rodale Press) is another good resource.

Ask questions. You've read a book or three and still have a dozen questions. Luckily, gardeners tend to be talkative and helpful folk, happy to share their green thumb know-how with greenhorns. If there are other vegetable gardeners in the neighborhood, don't be shy about approaching them. You'll probably get answers to your questions and to questions you didn't even know you needed to ask. You can also pick up the phone and call a Master Gardener. The Extension Service office in each (USA) county has a Master Gardener Hotline staffed by volunteers who have completed an extensive horticultural training program. They're available to answer your gardeningquestions, free of charge. Check the County section of the Government Pages in your Phone book for the number of your Extension Service office.

 Invest in good tools. I do all my digging and weeding by hand. I find that working the soil with spade, hoe, and garden rake is much more satisfying than attacking it with a rototiller, especially when one is using carefully chosen, high quality implements. Look for tools with high quality forges steel heads and sturdy handles that will stand up to heavy use.

Close the loop--Compost! As far as I am concerned, no home garden is complete without a compost pile. Vegetable gardens require regular inputs of organic material to maintain fertility and build good soil structure. Making your own compost is the most efficient and inexpensive way to keep your plants and your soil well fed.

Mulch your garden. Covering your garden with layer of wood chips, straw or other organic material will save work and help ensure a successful harvest. Mulching reduces the need for weeding, helps the soil retain moisture during dry summer months, and prevents soil compaction.

Consider containers. No yard? If you have a deck, porch or patio that gets at least six hours of sun per day, you can grow vegetables, herbs, even fruit trees in containers. Your local garden center will have a good assortment of growing containers made of wood, plastic or clay. (I use plastic five-gallon pails they buy for pennies at the bakery section of my grocery store.) Drill some drainage holes, fill your containers with a commercial potting mix or 50/50 blend of sand and compost and you're ready to plant. Be advised, however, that containers tend to dry out more rapidly than garden soil. In summer months, you'll probably need to water your container plants daily. Keep at it. Think of gardening as a form of intimate relationship with nature.

Like all good relationships, you've got to invest ongoing time, care and attention if you want to keep it alive and growing. Plan on spending a few minutes several times a week weeding, checking for insect damage and other problems, and just enjoying the sense of peace and contentment that being in your garden can bring.

A final piece of gardening advice borrows yet again from an advertising slogan you're probably sick of: "Just Do It." There's no other way to experience the unique pleasure and satisfaction of harvesting and eating a garden-fresh tomato, carrot, head of lettuce, or ear of corn you have grown with your own love, attention, and labor.



"To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch their renewal of life - this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do."




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