When February rolls around, we always get excited here at The Yardstead. No, not because of Valentines Day, but because it means Spring garden time is about to arrive. We are extra excited this year since our garden has been almost completely bare since the end of the summer. We usually have a full winter garden with lots of collards, mustard, turnips and other greens as well as snow peas and cabbage varieties (bak choi is one of my favorites). This year our work schedules kept us out of the garden for the most part all winter. Kathleen did mange to get some snow peas in the ground a couple of weeks ago, but it may get to hot for them before they really produce much. We arent to worried about the snow peas though, if they dont produce much we will eat what they do produce right off the vines while we work in the garden. The fresh pods make a tasty snack! Anyway, one of the first veggies that we usually get in the ground for Spring are potatoes. Our old farmers almanac says Valentines day is the best time to plant potatoes in our area.
Potatoes grow best in cool, but not freezing weather. If you live somewhere with a hot climate, like our yardstead (which is in Florida) you should plant the potatoes as early as possible so they will have time to produce before the weather gets too hot. Many varieties of potatoes will wilt and die when the temperature reaches the 90s. A freeze will also kill potato plants, so you need to plant them after your last freeze. Since it takes about 2 or three weeks after being planted for the potatoe plants to emerge from the ground it is usually safe to plant them a couple of weeks prior to your latest expected freeze date where the temperature drops down below 28 degrees. Well, since no one gets a schedule with all the temperatures listed in advance we have to rely on past weather statistics to forecast planting times. NOAA maintains the National Climate Data Center with all kinds of useful weather and climate statistics, that can be accessed from their website. Here is a link to the freeze/frost probability tables. Just select your state from the list and scroll down the table to and find the nearest town listed. You will see the 28 degree column and can find the latest date it is likely to fall below 28F in your area. For our area itis Feb. 8 so valentines is a safe bet for us.
There are many varieties of potatoes to choose from. You can.......
......save old (but not rotten) or damaged potatoes from the grocery store for planting, or order 'seed' potatoes from a seed supplier. There are so many interesting varieties of potatoes you may enjoy looking through a seed catalog and planting some uncommon varieties. You can find potatoes in all shapes, colors and sizes. Store your seed potatoes in the refrigerator until about about a week before planting, then place them on a coutertop or window sill with some sun exposure to bring them out of their dormant state.
Potatoes are hearty growers and will do well anywhere they can get plenty of sun, water and nutrients. I have found many potatoes growing in our compost pile over the years. Cut the seed potatoes into small pieces and place them 1 to 2 inches deep in the soil. Add some compost on top if the soil is not very fertile and water them a few times a week. In a couple of weeks you should see the plants breaking through the surface. In 2 to 4 months the tops will die and the potatoes will be ready to harvest. Since the actual tubers grow in the ground you may not see any of the potatoes until harvest time. I always get curious and check the progress after about a month or so and gently dig down around the plants till i can see a potatoe or two. You can harvest the potatoes right after the tops die or leave them in the ground for a few more weeks if you dont have time and they will be perfectly fine. If you have any questions about growing potatoes or anything else related to gardening or urban homesteading, please drop a note for us in the forum, and if we dont know the answer, we probably know someone who does!