IT NEVER FAILS. Every year after I turn the cover crop, volunteer potato plants sprout in the beds where I planted potatoes last year. These plants seem to know exactly when to start growing based on the weather that season. They grow vigorously in the moist spring soil, getting the jump on weeds and many pests like cutworms.
Since these volunteers grow so well in the cool weather, the idea came to me, why not plant potatoes in the fall instead of the spring. Not only do potatoes do better in cool, moist soil, I also avoid having to plant one more vegetable during the mad rush of spring.
There’s also some other good reasons for planting potatoes in fall. There’s more soil amendments like compost and leaves available at that time of year. Plus, if you have already planted potatoes in the previous spring, you can plant some of your own little potatoes as seeds in the fall and reduce the need to buy seed potatoes.
For those of you in cold areas of the Northern Hemisphere, here’s my schedule for planting potatoes in fall. If you are in the other hemisphere, or in areas colder or warmer than New Hampshire, you can adjust for your zone.
- Buy certified seed potatoes. If none are available, buy organic, grocery store potatoes.
- Chit potatoes (sprout eyes) by leaving them in sunlight in cool (70 degrees) moist air.
- Dig trenches 10 inches deep and 30 inches apart for planting.
- Add an inch of oak leaves and compost in the trenches. Potatoes are heavy feeders.
One possible problem with planting in the fall could be finding seed potatoes in September. Most of the time, organic potatoes from the grocery store work just fine. One advantage of using these is that you get to taste before you plant.
But many seed potato sellers say this is a dangerous practice because of the increased risk of potato diseases. If you end up with diseased potatoes, it may be many years before you can successfully grow potatoes again. Is it worth the risk, I don’t know for sure, but I’ve grown potatoes from the store and haven’t had any problems. Just make sure they’re organic potatoes. The others probably won’t sprout.
- Plant potatoes eye side up in late October before frost. Be careful not to break the sprouts.
- Space seeds one foot apart (you can get away with less if you have fertile soil).
- Cover potatoes with six inches of soil.
- Cover soil with six inches of mulch (oak leaves in my case).
- Mound soil around plants when growth reaches six inches.
- Add mulch around plants when plants grow another six inches.
- Add more mulch if the plants are tall enough.
- Water if it gets dry.
- Harvest new potatoes when flower set.
- Leave the rest for when the vines die back and the potatoes are mature.
Is it better to plant potatoes in the fall or in the spring? The answer to that question will be determined by your environment. If you live in an area where spring is short and summer turns dry and hot soon after the ground defrosts, you might stand a better chance planting in the fall. Fall planting might also be right if you can get your potatoes out of the ground before pests can find them. On the other hand, if you live in an area like the Pacific Northwest where it’s easy to grow potatoes in the spring, it might make more sense to just wait.
Have you planted potatoes in the fall? Let us know what your experience has been by commenting below.
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