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Potatoes thrive in Huerfano

by Susan Simons
Master Gardener
HUERFANO- Potatoes thrive here, especially if planted in early spring. They are native to the Andes mountains and grow well in cool weather. In Pueblo, some people plant them on St Patrick’s Day! Though there are early and late cultivars, for best growth daytime temperatures should be 60-75 degrees with cool nights below 60 degrees. It’s important to buy seed potatoes that are certified disease resistant, and it is possible to buy organic disease resistant potatoes. In 2009, I planted Yukon Gold bought from Fox’s in Pueblo. In 2010, I tried a red potato called Caribe from Seeds of Change (www.seedsofchange.com). This year I am planting Rio Grande Russet from Seeds of Change. I understand that Perennial Favorites in Rye will have organic seed potatoes available for their Open House May 6-8 with two varieties bred in and for Colorado from Ronniger Potato Farm (www.potatogarden.com/index.html). I usually buy two pounds and generally get a yield of around 30 pounds. The rule of thumb is to multiply the amount you buy by 10 to predict the yield.
For two pounds of seed potatoes, prepare a plot about 6’ by 4’. I double dig the plot: that is, I spade the first 8-10 inches of topsoil aside and loosen the next level with a pitchfork and then return the topsoil with its valuable nutrients. Potatoes are relatively heavy feeders, so dig in a good supply of aged manure or organic compost.
Plant small potatoes whole and cut larger ones in pieces 1-2 inches in diameter with 1-3 eyes. According to some sources, you should dry the cut potatoes for 24 hours so the cut areas harden. Some gardeners plant rows, some plant hills, some even plant in mulch mounds. Follow directions for depth, spacing and spacing of rows, leaving plenty of room.
As the plants grow, hill up around them with soil, straw, mulch, and/or compost to ensure that the developing tubers are not exposed to sunlight. If tubers are exposed to the sun, they will turn green and develop a mildly toxic substance called solanine. I generally leave only a small part of the plant exposed to sun. Extra compost during growing boosts production. Give the crop a steady but not excessive supply of water.
Harvest approximately two months after planting once the foliage starts to wither and die back. Dig with a spading fork. Clean and dry the crop but don’t expose it to sun. Store the tubers in a dark place at around 40 degrees. Eat the potatoes right away for best flavor and because some types don’t store well for long. Save the smaller ones for planting the next spring.