How to grow tender, young "new potatoes" right in your own garden.
“New potatoes,” those harvested small and early, are all the rage in America’s kitchens and for good reason. They’re often fork- sized (well, close), retain their shape when cooked up, and come out nice and tender. They’re also a touch sweet. They haven’t developed long enough for their sugars to turn to starch. And that makes them the perfect accompaniment to late spring- early summer meals when they go well with other early season vegetables from your organic garden.
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What makes a new potato new is it’s harvest time. You can have them in eight weeks to ten weeks after planting, depending on the conditions where you live. And potato tubers can go in the ground early, four to six weeks ahead of the last frost. But don’t plant them too early. Wait until your soil temperature reaches 45 degrees or so. Tubers put in the ground when soil temperatures are below 45 will stay dormant, and if conditions are wet, may rot.
Choose seed potatoes carefully and be sure to buy from a reputable dealer.
Types of potatoes vary widely and your local grower and nursery people are the best source of information on which potatoes are right for your area and best for early harvest.
Seed potatoes found at big box stores or other outlets, including supermarkets, may have been sprayed with sprout inhibitors. They’re also a notorious source of disease. A great source of seed potatoes in our world was a neighbor who always had plenty. We knew how he grew and he didn’t automatically spray or otherwise poison his crop.
Early potatoes benefit from advance sprouting before growing in the ground. Find the end of the potato that holds most of the eyes, or sprouting spots, and set them upright — an egg carton works great, or in baby food jars if you have them — in a cool, dry, place. The potatoes don’t have to be in the dark, in fact, light will encourage the tubers to sprout.
You can do this a month or so ahead of garden planting. Try to time it so that the tuber sprouts, known as chits, are about an inch or so long when it’s time to stick them in the ground. This method is also great for any potatoes you’ll be growing in bags or containers.
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Potatoes that have several eyes can be cut to give you more plants. Make sure each piece of the potato you cut is at least an inch or more in diameter and has at least one or two eyes. (Grandpa always insisted on two, “like me,” he’d say.) Let the cut ends dry for a day or two before planting to help them resist excessive moisture and disease.
Plant potatoes for new harvest just as you would other potato tubers, six to eight inches deep, eyes up. We’ve always favored planting potatoes in rows, in a trench, so that they may be more easily heaped with soil as they grow.