Potatoes are the edible tubers that grow underground from potato plants. The process of growing potatoes begins as small potatoes or small pieces of a larger potato that are planted in the ground. It is possible to use potatoes from the grocery store as seed potatoes, but it is much better to buy specific seed potatoes because sometimes potatoes in the grocery store are sprayed with a growth inhibitor to prevent them from sprouting too soon. Seed potatoes are untreated and will grow into bigger, healthier, and more productive plants.
Seed potatoes, or cut pieces of one larger potato, must have a small growth area called an eye that will allow the seed potato to begin growing as a plant. After a few days this eye will begin to sprout a new stem underground and will push out of the soil. As the potato plant grows it develops more and more shoots, roots, and eventually, tubers.
When the shoots are about 6" tall, the plant is mostly covered in dirt again, in a process called hilling. This process is repeated two or three times as the plant continues to grow. This allows the plant to produce larger and greater numbers of potatoes during its growing season. Depending on the variety of potato, potato plants can grow quite tall, over 20" or more.
Potatoes will produce small white, blue, or even pink beautiful star-shaped flowers as they mature. When the plants are large enough to set flowers, you can dig carefully down next to the plant to harvest new potatoes- smaller, softer potatoes that are excellent for eating fresh, but not very good for storage. However, once the plants have reached maturity and the plants themselves have died back the full sized potatoes can be harvested for eating or storage. To harvest potatoes, the grower must dig down below each plant to carefully lift the tubers from the soil.
Depending on the variety, some potatoes can be stored for months in a cool, dark location. Potatoes come in dozens of varieties and are suited for different uses and storage times based on their consistency. They also come in a variety of colors, from the flashy deep purple skin and flesh of the All Blue potato to the rough, deep tan of the Russet Burbank baking potato, and all types of other colors in between. You can readily grow potatoes in gardens, raised beds, or containers, depending on the variety you choose. To learn more about growing quality seed potatoes at your own home, visit Wood Prairie Farm, High Mowing Organic Seeds, or About Home's potato gardening tips.
Next week Food Facts November will teach you more about where the pumpkins and squash for your favorite holiday pie comes from!