Growing Your Own Potatoes

Why Grow Your Own Potatoes?

We can improve resiliency, health, and quality of life by growing our own vegetables locally. Many of the vegetables commonly grown in backyard gardens, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots ,are great sources of vitamins and minerals but are not as high in energy content as measured by calories. Much of our daily caloric needs come from staple grains (wheat, corn, rice) which are difficult to produce from a backyard garden due to the time, space, and effort required. Fortunately the potato is an energy dense vegetable with many advantages for the part-time gardener, including:    

  • Easy and rewarding to grow
  • Store well with minimal effort
  • Nutritious source of carbohydrates as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Simple to prepare
  • Homegrown potatoes taste great! 


Potatoes originated in southern Peru in South America. Spanish sailors are believed to have brought the potato to Europe in the 16th century, where it became a major food resource by the 1800s. Potatoes have become a widely consumed crop in the US as well, and it is clear that potatoes have a lot more to offer beyond French fries.

Seed Potatoes

Potato plants are grown from seed potatoes, which are simply small potatoes or larger cut-up tubers. Certified seed potatoes from an established supplier are recommended to ensure they are disease free and certainty of the variety. Some mail order sources for seed potatoes are listed in the references at the end of this article if you do not have a local source.  

Be sure to order seed potatoes in the early spring before they sell out. Supermarket potatoes might work in a pinch, but they are not ideal to use because they may be treated to inhibit sprouting. 

Chitting or green sprouting prior to planting is recommended to encourage early growth. Store your seed potatoes in a warm area with indirect sunlight for 2 or more weeks until sprouts form from the eyes. I don’t bother to cut seed potatoes before planting, but if you choose to cut them, follow the recommendations of the supplier.

To figure how much seed you will need, 10 pounds of seed plants about 80 feet at 12’ spacing. A typical yield for me is about 5 to 10 pounds of potatoes for every linear 10 feet.


Potatoes grow in most well-drained fertile soils with decent sunlight. They need lots of space, so you may want to save your raised beds for other veggies. I use a different area each year to plant potatoes in my backyard, rotating with other space-consuming crops such as corn and squash. So far I have not had any problems with disease.

Wait to plant until the soil is 55-60 degrees F and dry enough to work before planting to reduce the risk of seed decay. This past spring I planted in early May on a warm weekend, only to be hit with a period of cold wet weather. Nothing came up, but fortunately a replanting 4 weeks later was much more successful.

Seed potatoes are typically recommended to be planted in a furrow 4” to 6” deep, spaced about 12” apart, with rows at least 2' - 3' on center.  However, the no-till, no-dig method makes growing potatoes easy! Simply place the seed pieces on the surface of the ground – dirt, low grass areas, or whatever. I string out a long tape measure to keep neat rows, or you can place seed randomly. Cover with mulch and you’re done!

Mulch can include hay, straw, leaves, compost, or reportedly even newspaper. I use composted yard waste for free from the local transfer center and my own backyard pile. 

There are several great advantages to the no-dig method:

  • Saves labor and machinery needs
  • Preserves soil structure and retains moisture
  • Allows seed to warm up

People with limited space can still grow potatoes in many ways using containers, bags, or towers. I don’t have experience with this, but hopefully others can share their success.


The purpose of hilling is to add more soil or mulch around the plants so that new tubers can form between the seed pieces and the soil surface. Hilling allows the plants to preserve moisture and protects tubers from sunlight.

Hilling should be done when the plants are 6” to 12” tall, about 3 or 4 weeks after planting, sufficient to cover most but not all of the plant. Hill a second time when the plants are again 6”-8” tall if you get a chance, but the second hilling is less critical. I hill by adding more mulch with a wheelbarrow and shovel. You can also use a hoe to move adjacent soil or mulch along each row if your soil is workable.   

Other than hilling, very little weeding is required. The potato plants should soon be big enough to shade and out compete weeds. I pull out the big weeds or run down between rows with a stirrup hoe if I have time, but don’t worry much if I can’t get to it. 


New potatoes can be “robbed” anytime after about 60 days. It is fun to go out just before supper and reach carefully around the plant roots in the soil with your hand to steal new potatoes. They are light-skinned and delicious.

Potatoes are mature when the tops start to die back. Leave the potatoes in the ground at least another two weeks to allow the skins to toughen. Delaying digging until cool weather comes is desirable for long term storage, and some folks report good luck storing potatoes in the ground until frost. However, quality may deteriorate if potatoes are left in wet soil too long or you have problems with bugs. I use judgment as the season goes based on the weather and my available time.

To avoid damaging the spuds I like to dig potatoes with my hands and gloves, which is easily done in the loose compost. If you can time it right, it’s worth waiting a few days after the last rain event so you don’t end up with potatoes covered with mud. 


Loose dirt may be brushed off but washing potatoes is not necessary or recommended. I have washed potatoes though when I’ve had to dig them in wet conditions but have had no problems with storage as long as I let them dry out thoroughly first.   

Cull out potatoes not fit for long term storage. Damaged spuds may be eaten soon but should not be stored. Green or sun struck potatoes may be saved for seed but should not be eaten since they may give you a tummy ache (toxic). Diseased potatoes should not be saved or composted but disposed of. Really small potatoes are usually not worth saving and will not store well.

Spread harvested potatoes out on trays or other surfaces and allow them to dry and heal for a couple weeks at 55 – 60 F. I save a bunch of shallow cardboard produce boxes for this purpose and cover the potatoes with old sheets or light blankets to protect them from the sun if I cannot darken the room. 

Before final storage I check again for any bad potatoes then place carefully in open boxes or trays.   Potatoes store best in very cool (32 – 40 F) and high humidity (85 – 90%) conditions, in the dark. However, I used the corner of my basement for a couple years successfully though it was seldom that cold or humid.

If you want to store a substantial amount of produce, a root cellar is an initial expense but is tremendously handy. I built a basic root cellar in the northwest corner of my basement by walling off a 4’ x 8’ room with 2” thick rigid insulation. There are two vents for natural convection, one to allow cold air in down low and one to allow warmer air to escape from up high. 4” ducting is routed to opposite sides of the room for maximum circulation. I installed 4” blast gates, used for woodworking dust collection systems to provide the ability to shutoff air flow. I shut the vents only if it is very warm outside to keep the root cellar cool, or if it is so cold outside there is a risk of freezing in the root cellar. I also added an old bathroom fan to force cold air in during cool autumn nights.

Keep a thermometer in your root cellar to monitor the temperature. Some open pails or trays of water will help maintain humidity.   Place mouse traps as necessary to control critters. I store carrots, beets etc. in the root cellar also, but keep apples in a separate area because the gases given off by apples may cause deterioration of your other veggies if ventilation is not adequate.

There are many possible ways to build root cellars inside or outside your house. See the references for more information.  

Potato Varieties

There are hundreds of interesting varieties of potatoes I have yet to try, but here are a few common ones that I have had success with. 

Dark Red Norlands are a great early, white potato. I start stealing these to eat as soon as I can in the summer, when the skins are bright red and paper thin. They are excellent for boiling or steaming. Dark Red Norlands store good but not as long as others below so I eat them up first in the fall.

Yukon Gold is an all-purpose potato I would choose first if I could only grow one type. They are early to mature with large productive tubers with yellow flesh that are excellent tasting and store well. Great for mashed potatoes or French fries.

Kennebec is a great mid-season, white, all purpose potato that grows large and stores well.

Gold Rush is a late, white, russet variety of potato that is excellent for baking and stores well.

German Butterballs are absolutely the best tasting all purpose potato I tried new this year and is excellent steamed, baked, or roasted. The flesh is yellow, and they mature late and store well. The only potential drawback was my tubers were relatively small.


I’m still learning how to be a better cook, but an understanding of the different types of potatoes can help in selection for your particular recipe. 

High starch, low moisture potatoes such as Gold Rush, Idaho, and Russets, are best for baking or light, fluffy mashed potatoes. The texture is sometimes described as floury or mealy.

Low starch, high moisture potatoes such as red-skinned varieties hold their shape well and are great for steaming, pan frying, or potato salads. The texture is sometimes described as waxy.

All purpose potatoes are medium starch and work well in most dishes whether they are steamed, roasted, mashed, or fried.

New potatoes are simply red or white potatoes harvested early and are great for salads or roasting. They may not store well so eat them up.

Hopefully others can share some great simple recipes. We want to thrive, not just survive, and growing your own potatoes may be one way to do that!


Johnny’s Selected Seeds company offers a variety of seed potatoes and a concise guide online about what you should know about growing potatoes.

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds - Large selection of Organic, Conventional and unique tubers.

Maine Potato Lady has a wide variety of seed potatoes to order. Check out her guide for growing potatoes and much more.

Fedco Seeds has a ton of information in their ”Moose Tubers” catalog and many varieties for seed available.

Storage and Root Cellars: For more information on root cellars and food storage, get the excellent book Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel, 1991. 

Also check your State Extension Service for information and publications on growing potatoes and other gardening recommendations particular to your region.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

good article

i would agree to rotate every year due to colorado potatoe bug. also would add not to plant tomatoes , egg plant, peppers where last year’s potatoes were as the potatoe bugs love these plants too.

i plant late(mid june) and let em grow all summer and fall and harvest as late as i can(mid oct). that way i get nice large potatoes,  i dry them on screens for a week or so, then into the root cellar i have under my front stored potatoes are eatable oct thru june. i could plant an earlier row or two, but usually i want potatoes in the winter as a comfort food.

i have  heard that placing mulch or grass clippings etc help to deter the potatoe bugs

the bugs that do show up, daily get flicked into a coffee can of water. if you spot them early and are dilligent, you can usually get rid of them the first cycle they show up.

the trick is to get the bugs early before they lay more eggs.

i find potatoes a good crop to trade and when i am invited to dinner, i am always asked to bring my chemical free potatoes! my mashed potatoes at thanksgiving are a tradition.

i grow yukon gold, red pontiac, and russet

I would highly recommend any UK readers to attend GardenOrganic’s ‘Potato Day’ at Ryton Gardens (in Warwickshire). An amazing selection of seed spuds, over 120 varieties available and you can buy them individually, so if you want to try some new varieties you don’t have to commit to a whole kilo of seed. I’ll be there again, for sure! Last year I tried (amongst others) a blue variety, and also the oldest variety still available in the UK which dates back to the early 1800s. Well worth a visit.

And whilst you’re there, join the Heritage Seed Library


I would highly recommend getting certified organic seed potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm, 49 Kinney Road, Bridgewater, Maine 04735, phone 800 829 9765,  Their colorful illustrated catalog provides a table of useful information on their entire collection of 17 varieties, and more on soils, organic growing, and storage.

Thanks Woodman for the great write-up. I wish I could use a root cellar down here on the Texas Gulf Coast. 

Very useful article.  Thanks for taking the time to write it.  I like potatoes and would eat them every day if I didn’t have concerns related to them being nightshades.  While some individuals are not affected at all, other individuals are affected to varying levels (some being mildly sensitive and some being severely sensitive) and can develop arthritic symptoms as a consequence of consuming plants in the Solanaceae family.

Just something to consider.

I’ve had problems with my potatotes getting nibbled intensely by moles and other little critters.  Maybe I’ll try the late planting method suggested by butterflywoman as a way to get them out of the ground as soon as the tops die back.  Or maybe I just need to plant early and harvest as soon as they’re ready.
Also, the purple ones (especially the ones with purple flesh) such as Adirondack Blue are both pretty, tasty and nutritious.



 My first potato experience was a disaster.  I planted them in plastic tubs, adding more soil as they grew.  They did fine for a while, then they wilted and died.  It was suggested that it was just too hot–we had an awful summer with temps in the triple digits.  I dont think I overwatered and I didnt see any bugs.

Thanks for taking the time to write this article. Your article on extending the home garden harvest was what finally tipped the balance so I joined the site. Thanks.

I’ve avoided growing potatoes because of their high carbohydrate levels. As you pointed out, that would be a very positive attribute in times of limited food. Your no-till method makes them easy enough to grow, so I’ll likely put some in my garden next year. If the world holds together, I can always donate the majority to a food bank.


Plant castor beans around your potato patch.  They contain ricin (more toxic than most chemical pesticides) which does a nice job of "controlling" moles.
Very well done.  Thanks for taking the time and energy for this post.

Thanks Woodman for the writeup on potatoes. I didn’t get a chance to grow them in my 1st year of gardening this year, but I will try them out next year.

Some notes on using Castor bean or mole bean, known as Ricinus communis, at this link.

Thanks for the kind comments and additional information. 
I wanted to show growing your own potatoes can be really easy.  I’m not a master gardener, just someone experimenting to see what I can produce in the backyard of my 1 acre lot.  

Wireworms seemed to show up this past season, especially where the potatoes were left in the ground longer.  They make little holes in the tubers.  My chickens love to peck around the potatoe patch now, and I’m hoping they are eating up the larva.

I made french fries tonight that my kids love to eat. Peel and cut some Yukon Gold potatoes into thin sticks and steam about 5 minutes in a covered pan while the oven preheats to about 400F.  Then drizzle with olive oil and salt and seasonings and spread out on a cookie sheet and roast for 20-25 minute or until they are the desired crispiness.  Way better than Mcdonalds.  


Its also a good idea to buy some Potassium fertiliser.  The other two, nitrogren and phosphorous, aren’t really required.  You can also learn to make Potassium fertiliser yourself by taking ash from burnt organic matter or wood.

Thanks Woodman–great post.  You mentioned recipes.  Our quick, easy, and always yummy home recipe is simple:
Slice into rounds, put into a high walled pan that you can cover, add rosemary(super easy herb garden plant), your favorite high heat oil(using grape seed or safflower lately), some minced garlic and salt. Let cook until done. 

Thank you for the informative article. Maceves, I tried potatoes in a container this year too, they were fingerlings and I kept mounding the dirt as the season progressed. They took off like weeds, then we got a horrid infestation of white fly, some little bug that makes spider web like stuff on the plants, and rust;  in August they leaves just crimpled up and died.
I only got one layer of potatoes to harvest but oh my goodness, they were the best potatoes I have ever had in my life. Well worth it just for that one meal.

Great article, Tom! I didn’t know they could be that easy to grow or store for so long!
I’m looking forward to trying some in the garden next year.


I'm really looking forward to growing potatoes! I also liked the info on storage, that's very useful!
Thanks for sharing!

I gald to see this article revived as the time is arriving to plan for this years potatos.  I put in an order last week for 50 lb each of seed potatos for Yukon Gold and Gold Rush ( we eat a lot around here!)  I still have some of these two varieties left from last summer and they have stored well in the root cellar.  I also have a lot of Dark Red Norlands left, but htey got a little soft by December.  I'm saving them for seed this spring.  

This year is my first year experimenting with a potato tower, which looks like a pretty efficient way to grow a lot of potatoes on just 4 square feet of ground:


(Full article here)

I planted the first board level a week and a half ago with 3-4 varieties (including German Butterball, Yukon Gold, and a deep purple breed) of seed potatoes picked up at the local farmers market.

Peeking yesterday showed that the plantings were already sending out roots.

If all goes as hoped for, this set-up should produce nearly 100lbs of potatoes from this 2x2x4 tower.

Will report back in several months to describe how the harvest goes.