Potatoes are an incredibly versatile vegetable. They’re easy to grow and delicious to eat – in every one of the countless ways to prepare them. And there are so many varieties to try! Creamy, starchy, red, white and even blue – there’s bound to be one perfect for just about any recipe you dream up.

Potatoes and pig

This little piggy likes potatoes!

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Sprouting potatoes

Potatoes break through the soil soon after planting.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Potatoes growing

When your potato plants reach about a foot tall, start adding compost to build up the soil around them.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Potatoes on plate

There are so many different potatoes to grow, from the starchy Russets and creamy Yukon Golds to the many delicious red-skinned varieties.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

The good news is you can grow them all! You just need a little background on the kinds of potatoes out there and how long they take to grow. Short-season potatoes, like Yukon Gold or Onaway, take 70-90 days to mature; mid-season potatoes, like Carola, take 90-110 days; and long-season potatoes, like Russets, take 110-135 days.

To start, you’ll need to get your gardening gloves on some seed potatoes in the variety you want to grow. Despite the name, “seed potatoes” aren’t really seeds – they’re just small potatoes. You can purchase them from a potato seed company, a seed catalog or at your local hardware store.

My favorite way to start these veggies is to plant the seed potatoes in small containers in good potting soil or in a light compost/peat mix and allow them to sprout in my garage until the last frost has passed. Then I transplant the little sprouts into my vegetable bed. (Of course, you can also store your seed potatoes on a cool, dark shelf inside your garage or in a similar space and plant them directly into your garden after the last frost, but I prefer to get a head start on the season.)

Potatoes prefer a sunny location and grow best in light soil amended with compost and fertilizer that doesn’t contain a lot of nitrogen (which can cause root rot). To amend your soil, loosen it with a gardening fork (like a shovel, but has tongs like a fork), then mix in amendments like compost. Use manure sparingly because of the added nitrogen.

If you’ve got difficult soil, it may be easier to build raised beds and grow your potatoes in them rather than preparing your existing soil. You can buy prefabricated kits, build a raised bed using flat boards or even use cardboard boxes. After your raised bed is constructed, fill it with a light mixture of compost, peat moss and sand. I prefer to add a little aged chicken manure to fertilize the bed instead of cow manure. (I find processed chicken manure products are easier to work with, and I noticed my plants produced more potatoes when I changed over to it. I also use an even fertilizer, like a 10-10-10.)

Once you’ve prepared the soil, plant your seed potatoes at least 6 inches deep (or transplant them if you started them in pots). It depends on the variety you’re growing, but in general, space them about 12 inches apart. You don’t have to plant them in rows. If you’ve got raised beds, consider planting your seed potatoes in an “X” pattern, making sure the potatoes in the corners are about 12 inches away from the potato in the center. This makes your garden look more attractive, and you’ll get more plants in a small space.

Your potatoes will sprout quickly. When your plants reach about 10-12 inches tall, start building the soil up around them by adding more compost and covering them with a layer of mulch. This serves two purposes: 1) Your plants will grow roots into the raised compost hills and produce more potatoes, and 2) it protects you and your potatoes. If a potato grows at the surface, it’ll start to photosynthesize and may produce a toxin called solanine, which can cause nausea and diarrhea. That said, if you harvest any green potatoes, throw them away or toss them into the compost bin. (The green color is chlorophyll, which can be an indicator of solanine presence – and why take the chance on getting sick?)

When you notice your plants are starting to flower, you can reach into the soil and start harvesting baby potatoes. If you prefer your potatoes larger, leave them until the greenery at the top starts to die off. Then pull up the plant and dig around in the soil with your hands to find the vegetable. If you’ve amended the soil until it’s light, you’ll be able to pull the potatoes right out.

Next comes the best part of growing your own potatoes: eating them! I love to cut up red potatoes and steam them, covering them only with a light layer of butter and chives. You can also make mashed potatoes (a family favorite), or whip up a potato dish from any one of the countless recipes out there!

There you have it. Growing your own potatoes is really simple, delicious and nutritious – what more could you want from your vegetable garden?