A simple cold frame is all you need to to have early potatoes in the spring. You can plant early potatoes in mid March and they will be ready in June.
We are big “tater” eaters. Mashed, fried, boiled or baked; no matter how we cook’em we love potatoes!!
But . . . Potatoes are on the USDA “dirty dozen” list, meaning they are one of the veggies or fruits that have the highest levels of chemical use for conventional grown potatoes. Almost anywhere you read people are warning you to avoid conventionally grown spuds. When I was younger I worked for a potato farmer and know first hand the amount of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides they pile on conventionally grown potatoes. So we do all we can to grow as many of our own potatoes as possible.
One of the ways we do this is by planting early potatoes in the spring.
Potatoes are very frost sensitive so most people in our area do not plant potatoes until mid may. Well that’s just not good enough for us, dang it! Mrs. Stoney wants fresh potatoes in June to go with our peas for creamed peas and potatoes. So I had to get creative.
When to plant Early Potatoes
By mid March at least one of our winter cold frames is empty. So we grab the first seed potatoes that show up at our local farm store and get them in the ground early! My target date each year in St. Patrick’s Day. We live in a Zone 5b. If you live somewhere warmer you could plant sooner. Colder? Plant later! I figure about 2 months before your average last frost date is the way to go!
I usually loosen up the soil with a digging fork. Then I dig two trenches around 4 to 6 inches deep.
Be sure to throw in some compost. In our 4 x 8 cold frame beds we can plant about 10 pounds of seed potatoes total in the two trenches we dig.
Because we are focused on small early potatoes, spacing is less of a concern. You can pack them in pretty tight with only about 4 inches between seeds. If you want bigger potatoes that will be in longer you need to space the seeds more like 8 to 12 inches apart.
We like to cut our seed potatoes in two. When you cut the seed potatoes be sure that each piece has 2 or 3 eyes. Put the cut side down with the eyes up.
Next we just barely cover up the potatoes with maybe just an inch of soil.
Hilling the Potatoes
Once most of the potatoes have poked their green leaves out I bury them again. I will do this a couple more times and mound them up. I don’t mound up these spring potatoes nearly as much as I do my normal summer crop but I still mound them up at least 8 inches. This protects the growing potatoes & also gives you more potatoes. (To learn more about hilling potatoes read this post!)
Of course I always check the weather and and close the cold frame lids on nights with any frost danger. In March and early April I just leave the lids on all the time to give them a nice warm environment.
Once the tops start to bloom that means you have early potatoes growing underneath the surface. You could start harvesting any time but I like to wait a few weeks to let them size up a bit.
Harvesting your Early Potatoes
We start harvesting in mid June and continue until mid July.
As the month goes on we get bigger and bigger potatoes. A 4 x 8 bed with 2 rows will give us between 25 to 40 pounds of small tender potatoes. Towards the end of harvesting the potatoes, they may even be big enough for baking!.
After the bed is done harvesting, I will add some more compost and then plant the bed to bush beans for a late fall crop. This has the added benefit of adding a good bit of nitrogen back to the soil.
Keep in mind that this method of planting early potatoes is not meant to be the most “productive” method. We are growing these mainly for small “new” early potatoes. To compare the same 10 pounds of potato seeds planted in the more “traditional” long rows with more spacing will produce upwards of 75 pounds of large full grown spuds. So this cold frame method is meant to give you early small potatoes to have with your late spring and early summer crops.
What’s your favorite method for growing potatoes? Any added suggestions? Any questions? Please feel free to leave a comment!!
Want to learn even more??? I’ve put together a YouTube video on growing potatoes in a cold frame, go check it out and be sure to subscribe to our channel.