[gardeners] potatos/kinda long winded

Allen and Judy Merten (gardeners@globalgarden.com)
Thu, 03 Sep 1998 02:29:35 -0500

Hi Matt,
    I don't think you did bad about watering the potatos. As long as the
plants don't look wilty you weren't under watering them. One of the
major problems with potatos is rot. The wetter the more likely they are
to rot.
    When I plant I till the soil until it is nice and loose,  then pull
it together in a wide row, at least 24 inches across. I dig a trench in
the center of the row about 6 inches deep. I add fertilizer to this
trench and cover with about 3 inches of soil. Then I plant my potatos
and cover them with the last 3 inches of soil. The easiest way for me to
get the 3" to cover the fertilizer and the 3" to cover the potatos is by
covering the fertilizer with the soil on one side of the trench and
coming back to cover the potatos with the soil on the other side of the
trench. When I use a hoe to open the trench it throws soil to both sides
of the trench.
    When the potatos plants are about 6" tall I start pulling dirt up
around the stem to the bottom of the leaves. I keep "dirting" them as
they grow taller. The potato plant makes all of its potatos from the top
of the seed piece to the surface. The higher the soil is on the plant
the more room it has to make potatos.
    I think that you might be a little late for fall potatos. There is
only about 6 weeks left before you could expect a frost. You would make
some potatos but they would just about all be small.
    I have known people who have planted potatos for the first time use
potatos from the produce section at the store. These potatos almost
always fail to make a crop because they are treated so they won't sprout
before they can be used.
    When you cut your seed pieces one or two eyes are fine. The
important part is that they are on a chunk of potato about 1" square or
nearly so. Bigger is ok. Until the potato starts to sprout and make its
own roots this piece has to supply the sprout with food. These cut
pieces must be treated with something to keep them from getting diseased
or from shriveling. The books suggest sulfur among other things. I use
wood ashes like my grandfather and my dad did. It works like a champ and
is cheaper than the other stuff. Put the wood ashes in a bag add a
couple hands full of pieces and shake. I do this the day before I plant
them. I put the treated pieces on cardboard or brown paper with a little
space between them so they will air dry.
    I have read a book called Square Foot Gardening. It seems like an
interesting concept but since I have enough room and experience in the
traditional row gardening I stick to that. If it ain't broke don't fix
it. My neighbor is an advocate of another type gardening called "flat
gardening". Instead of rows he just plants on flat ground and spaces the
plants 18 to 24 inches apart left to right. The plants are in "rows" but
not hilled up if you know what I mean. His yields on the same type soil
are about 25% of mine. His potatos and other vegetables are way smaller
than mine. My largest red potatos were the size of soft balls. His were
about the size of tennis balls. He also has a lot of losses from root
rot. By using the traditional hilled up rows air and water pass through
the sides of the rows. It also keeps the soil from compacting to the
point that the roots can't get oxygen.My sandy loam will crust from time
to time. I take a garden rake and drag the rake so that it  just breaks
the surface on the side of the rows so that air and water can pass
    My county extension agent says that the veggie garden needs the
equivalent of 1" of rain per week. The only way I know how to do that is
use a sprinkler and a rain gauge that comes with some of them. After the
plants have leaves on them most city or treated water will burn the
leaves and wet leaves are more susceptible to fungus and mildew. Most of
my watering is row irrigation. I make soil dams every 4-6 ft and let the
water trickle down the row. It fills up between dams and then will break
the dam and go to the next one. This allows water to soak in and be
pulled up the sides of the row by osmosis. I do this about every three
days. It might supply the minimum but it won't over water which is bad
if not worse than just meeting the minimum.
    Whew!! I hope I haven't bored you to death. I can just rave on about
gardening. I love it and try to share what I have learned. I do have a
tendency to go on and on. If I can help you in any way just ask. I'll
try and probably fail to be less long winded.
Bastrop Co.,Tx