Getting ready to plant? Have you tried planting potatoes or onions? Both are easy to grow cool-season crops.
Almost 125 pounds of Irish potatoes and potato products are consumed each year by the average American.
Potatoes should be planted in early spring as they can withstand a light frost but a hard frost or freeze may slow growth. The potato is not a root but a tuber.
Purchase certified seed potatoes. Cut into one to two inch cubes, which have one good “eye” or bud. Cut the pieces three to five days prior to planting, allowing the surface to heal.
Several varieties are recommended for our area. The red varieties are excellent for storage while the white varieties are excellent for cooking. Many gardeners plant some of each in the spring, using the whites first and storing the reds for later use. Recommended varieties are Kennebec, Red Pontiac, Norchip, and Yukon Gold.
Potatoes should be planted in full sun in well-drained, loose, slightly acidic soil. The planting furrow should be three to five inches deep with spaces between seed pieces eight to 12 inches. A ridge of soil should be pulled over the row. They are heavy feeders. A soil test will indicate necessary nutrients. Around 6 weeks post plant, sidedress with a high nitrogen fertilizer, 34-0-0, five tablespoons per 10 ft row.
Potatoes may also be grown in mulch. Simply plant the seed pieces 1 inch below soil level or on top of the soil and cover with 12 to 18 inches of pine straw or wheat straw. The potatoes will develop in the mulch, making harvest extremely easy. It is important to keep the mulch over the potatoes as sun exposure on the potatoes will result in green skin. Green areas should be removed prior to consumption as they are poisonous.
Potatoes prefer lower soil temperatures; optimal temperature is 60–70 degrees. Mulch will not only keep the soil cooler but will deter weeds and prevent moisture loss. When blossoms are developing, ample water is essential.
When planting in furrows, tubers may be damaged by cultivation too close to the plant. “Laying by,” or throwing soil over the potatoes is performed to prevent sun exposure on the potatoes.
Potatoes mature in 100–120 days. “New potatoes” may be dug early. Begin harvesting once the vines die by carefully digging to avoid damage and long exposure to sunlight. If harvesting for storage, wait 2 weeks after vines die to harvest.
The average American consumes over 20 pounds of onions each year. Onions are also easy to grow. They should be planted in full sun in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter.
Onions are classified as either long-day, intermediate-day or short-day with each class suited for different areas. Long-day varieties are generally planted in the north. Intermediate-day length onions bulb when day length is 12–14 hours.
Short-day length varieties bulb when day length is between 10–12 hours and are well suited for our area. They are usually eaten fresh and have a sweet, mild flavor. Although they do not store well, they should be kept in a cool place in shallow boxes or mesh bags to maximize shelf life.
Onions may be planted from sets or transplants.
Plant the bottom of the bulb one to one-and-a-half inches deep and three to four inches apart.
Raised beds are ideal for growing onions as they drain easily and the loose soil is easy to pull away from the bulb at maturity.
A soil test is recommended pre-plant but without one apply four to five pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet prior to planting. Once the bulbs begin to enlarge, sidedress with two pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet. Too much nitrogen may inhibit storage as well as delay maturity.
“Green onions” are onions harvested prior to bulb formation. Harvest green onions when the tops reach six to eight inches in height.
Soil moisture is necessary for growth and good yields.
Limit cultivation to avoid bulb damage. A month prior to harvest, begin working the soil away from the bulb. A week prior to harvest, the bulb should be at least one-third above the ground.
Mature bulbs are ready for harvest when most of the tops have fallen over.
Potatoes and onions are easy to grow, nutritious crops that should be planted in every garden as they are two foods which Americans frequently consume.