OPINION

Planting Irish potatoes

Lonnie Jenschke

Growing up I always knew that when St. Patrick’s Day rolled around my grandpa would always say, “It’s time to plant potatoes.” He would always plow up the rows and we would follow behind planting the seed potatoes. We had everything from potato pancakes to baked potatoes. I have great memories of picking up potatoes and giving some away and storing some in the cellar to help store them from getting bad. Below are a few tips to help plant your potatoes.

Preparation of Seed

Irish potatoes are grown from pieces of the potato itself to start new plants. Home gardeners should purchase good seed potatoes that are free of disease and chemicals. Do not buy potatoes from a grocery store for planting.

The seed potato contains buds or “eyes” which sprout and grow into plants. The seed piece provides food for the plant until it develops a root system. Large seed potatoes for the spring crop should be cut into pieces which weigh about 1 1/2 to 2 ounces (about the size of a medium hen egg).  Cut the seed 5 or 6 days before planting. Hold the cut seed in a well-ventilated spot so it can heal over to prevent rotting when planted in cold, wet or very hot weather. Plants killed by a late spring frost will not come back if the seed piece is rotten. One pound of seed potatoes will make 9 to 10 seed pieces.

Planting

Potatoes should be planted when the soil temperature 4 inches deep reaches about 50 degrees F, or about 3 weeks before the last spring frost. Potatoes should be planted in February or early March in most areas of Texas. If planted too early the tops can be frozen off by spring frost. For a fall crop, plant about 110 days before the first expected frost, or mid-August in most areas.

Use a hoe or stick to open a trench about 3 inches deep down the center of the bed. Drop seed pieces 10 to 12 inches apart in the trench. Step on each seed piece after dropping it to assure good contact with the soil. Cover the seed about 3 inches deep. If covered too deeply, the plants will be slow to break through the soil and will be more subject to disease and seed decay.

Varieties

The most common type of Irish potatoes are red or white. Most red varieties store longer than white varieties. Most white varieties have better cooking qualities than red varieties. Many gardeners plant some of each in the spring. 

Harvesting

Potatoes are ready to harvest when the tops begin to die and the potato skin becomes firm. The skin is set when it does not scrape off easily when rubbed with the thumb. Dig under the plant with a shovel or spading fork. Pull potatoes from the vine and allow drying and then storing in cool spot with plenty of air.

Lonnie Jenschke is an Erath County extension agent. His column appears weekly and online at yourstephenvilletx.com.