Growing Guide – Early Potatoes

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.

Early Potatoes

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.

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

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Next we just barely cover up the potatoes with maybe just an inch of soil.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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12 Comments

  1. Brittany May 21, 2014 1:54 pm Reply

    Great post and perfect timing!! Thank You. I am curious to know if you bought organic potato seed and if so where you bought it from? We are in Utah as well and I have had a hard time finding some. Thanks!!

    • Mr. Stoney May 21, 2014 2:26 pm Reply

      Brittany, Great question. We grow organically as much as possible, we never use chemicals of any kind and any inputs into the garden (like compost) are also organic. But I feel like how you grow the plants is the most important part and I worry less about organically sourced seeds. In many cases it is very difficult or expensive to get organic seed and again I think how I care for the growing seed in my garden is the most important part. To address your specific question there are sources of certified organic seed potatoes. They are available from several different sources online. Here in Utah I have seen organic seed potatoes sold in a few nurseries but they are crazy expensive!! We are talking $7 or more dollars a pound versus the .88 a pound I paid for mine. This year we will plant over 40 pounds of seed potatoes, at $7 a pound those are some pretty expensive spuds! So it is just not practical for us to plant organic seed potatoes. That said, if you are here in Utah you better hurry!! We bought our potatoes 2 days ago at IFA in Riverton and they were going fast!! They did have a few small bags of organic seed.

  2. Brittany May 21, 2014 2:37 pm Reply

    Thanks so much for all your help.. again! I may end up waiting until next year because yes the few places I have even seen potato seed they are already out. I have seen online how expensive the organic seed has been and so I have been debating which route to go, I appreciate your input.

    • Mr. Stoney May 21, 2014 4:14 pm Reply

      Glad I could help!!

  3. Connie at Bird and Seed May 22, 2014 3:23 am Reply

    I haven’t grown potatoes but I’ve been thinking about it for next year. I’ve seen people with small spaces (like myself) use those large fabric-felt like bags to grow potatoes in. I think I’ll try that. You’ve got me excited for potatoes! Your crop looks awesome!

    http://www.birdandseed.net

    • Mr. Stoney May 22, 2014 7:05 am Reply

      Connie, I’ve seen a lot of people be fairly successful growing potatoes in different types of containers. We have only tried it once and it was a total failure. I’m just not very good at remembering to water containers!!

  4. Julie May 22, 2014 7:39 pm Reply

    Nice way to get potatoes much earlier! Do you have problems with potato beetles? I’m guessing the early ones avoid pest problems. My potatoes are being eaten by potato beetles right now and my technique of hand picking them is a bit tedious.

    http://sanguinaria-budding.blogspot.com

    • Mr. Stoney May 22, 2014 9:39 pm Reply

      Julie, lucky for us there really aren’t any potato beetle problems in our area. That is one plant that we have never really had many problems with pest wise any way.

  5. tessa Homestead Lady May 29, 2014 12:18 am Reply

    Thank you for sharing this at Green Thumb Thursday – I love that you use all available space! Why not? I sort of stink at potatoes so I love reading articles like these. Join us again this week http://homesteadlady.com/green-thumb-thursday-52914/.

    http://www.homesteadlady.com

  6. Letty O May 30, 2015 6:35 pm Reply

    I ended up growing potatoes by accident, I bury everything! Next thing you know – all these plants are growing, thriving and then wilt, dry up and gone! 🙁 boo ~ so, I start digging up the area to bury more clippings and one potato, two potato, three potato – more!!! Needless to say, I am now hooked! Thanks for your post, I will take the info and use it. Happy growing! 🙂

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