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Here in Belgium, everybody knows the potato, the delicious root bulb, that’s almost always part of our main dish. We make mashed potatoes or bake the potatoes in a pan, or we use them in a cold dish. The most known form of potatoes are the French fries.
It’s quite easy to grow your own potatoes if you take some time to do it right and check on them regularly. There are some diseases and plagues that can cause you some problems but that should not be a reason not to put some potatoes in the soil and grow your own meal.
What are potatoes?
Solanum Tuberosum is the Latin name for the potato. The plant is a member from the Solanaceae. The potato itself, the part we eat is nothing more than a storage of starch in the root part of the plant. These tubers grow out from underground stems, called stolons.
The first potatoes were grown in South America. In the 16thcentury, the potato became the basic food in many countries. In Belgium and the Netherlands, the potato is the main food.
All the green parts of the potato plant are poisonous, even the potatoes that come in contact with the air and have sunlight on them will turn green and poisonous to people (and different animals). The toxic substance in the green parts is called solanine.
Where to grow potatoes?
Potatoes are best grown in a really fertile soil. Potatoes love nutrients although there shouldn’t be an excess of nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will give the plant a real boost above the ground but will grow little to no tubers underground.
One thing to mention is, the potatoes or the tubers only start fattening once the plant is blooming.
So if you remove the plant before it starts to bloom you may see lots of roots and really small tubers, but you won’t find any big tubers in the soil.
Taking care of your potatoes?
This is an important part when learning how to grow potatoes?
Everything under this heading is almost the basis of growing healthy potatoes.
There is one thing when you learn how to grow potatoes, that is vital to success. Chitting potatoes or forcing potatoes is a necessary step to speed up the plant growth even before the potatoes are planted. Lay your starter potatoes open in a well ventilated and light space. There is no need for soil at this moment. Wait until small shoots start to emerge on the potatoes. Once these shoots have formed a 5 cm or 2 inches long, green top, you can even cut the potatoes in parts so every part has one shoot.
The shoots you see on the potatoes will grow out to be the potato plants.
Potatoes like a moist soil, not a wet soil, so watering from time to time is a must because otherwise you’ll get glassy potatoes and that’s a real downer if you get those in your meal.
It’s best to plant the potatoes with a distance of 50 cm(20 inches) and a row distance of 75cm (30 inches) unless you use the square foot garden where you plant one potato per square.
In this region, we mostly grow potatoes in trenches of 10 cm (4 inches) deep between two small hills.
Once the plant has grown about 15cm (6 inches), we hill the plants to cover more of the stem. This can be done one more time or two more times afterward.
Hilling has two reasons, the first reason being the covering of the stem which will grow more potatoes alongside the stem and the second reason being the covering of potential tubers which would otherwise become green due to the sunshine.
Potatoes love nutrient-rich soil so the use of compost is definitely advised. You can even hill the potatoes with pure compost.
There is one other method that seems to work really well for potatoes. Older gardeners, who had a good source of fish but no real fertilizer, started to bury in a fish about 10cm (4 inches) below the place where they would plant the potato, this was done at the moment they planted the potato.
As the fish starts to decompose, the nutrients become available to the root system of the plant and the potato gets all of its nutrients this way. (this is not really the same as fish emulsion because the bone structure is also used in this practice, which gives it a higher phosphorous and potassium content besides the nitrogen content.
Potatoes love the PH to be between 5 and 6
Amending with potassium is a good way to get stronger and bigger tubers.
Early varieties are planted in this region between half March and half April, these plants should only be on the field for about 3 months.
Middle varieties and the late varieties are planted between half April and end of May and these can stay on the field until the plant has totally withered above ground. As soon as the greens start to die it’s possible to harvest.
The middle and late varieties have bigger potatoes and a bigger harvest then the early varieties.
Potato diseases in how to grow potatoes
Late blight, potato blight or Phytophthora infestans
will have following symptoms: dark spots on the leaves and dark spots in the potatoes. At first, the spots will be gray-green and have a watery look. This disease can make you lose all of your harvests.
Fusarium or dry rot
infects the roots and the tubers. The roots start to die away. At this moment there’s no good fungicide against dry rot. Specifically for potatoes, you’ll see stunted plants above ground (if they ever show up) and underground, although difficult to control, the potatoes will develop small brown spots that start to enlarge.
Because these spots will start to dry, you’ll get some kind of craters in the tubers. The craters can contain a yellow or red fluffy mold.
If you get this disease, it’s mostly contaminated at the source where you bought the potatoes or due to the fact that the potatoes were badly preserved.
Colorado potato beetle
or the Colorado potato beetle is not really a problem in this region if we have a normal summer, but if it gets really hot or in warmer zones, this small critter can be devastating.
you can find a picture of this critter.
The potato beetle is approximately 1cm (0.38 inch) long, with a bright yellow or orange body. The beetle has five very visible brown stripes along the length of each of its elytra(forewings)
The larvae have a dark kind of red color with a black snout. They can eat entire fields of potato plants once they start to multiply.
It’s possible to catch these beetles and kill them off or use a product called spinosad
(legally usable in biological gardening here in Belgium) to exterminate them.
Be careful with spinosad
as the main ingredient can kill many insects, even the good ones.
and Globodera pallida
: golden nematode, golden eelworm, yellow potato cyst nematode, white potato cyst nematode, potato cyst nematode, are all common names for these two kinds of nematodes.
To avoid these pests, it’s best to always use crop rotation. The pests build up in the soil year by year. And the young nematodes feed on the roots of the plants. This is one of the main problems, commercial growers have, that makes them lose huge parts of their harvest.
Now you should know how to grow potatoes like a pro. Start growing potatoes now, you’ll love it.
I will amend with pictures and more information as needed and as I can get to. So come back on a regular basis to see the changes I made.