If you like potatoes, you’re in luck here at high altitude! Potatoes are one of the things that grow really well here. We’ve often heard various stories of the old homesteaders who came to the mountains of Colorado and grew potatoes. I used to wonder about that, since so much of the soil is rocky, but they must have gotten their draft horses and ploughs to till the soil and removed the rocks by hand. I’m glad we have those raised beds!
Our tall, raised beds are perfect for potatoes that love the cool weather here. I did not attempt to grow potatoes our first year since the garden beds weren’t all ready in time, but we have very successfully grown potatoes the past two years.
Knowing that potatoes would require somewhat acidic soil (pH 5-6), I planned ahead to acidify the soil. The fall prior to the spring I would plant the potatoes, I added some pine needles to break down in the soil over the winter, and mulched those beds with more pine needles. I’m not sure if it helped very much, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt, and we have plenty of pine needles laying around. Then, when I prepared those beds in the spring I added soil acidifiers to lower the pH, along with compost and an all-around fertilizer.
Potatoes were planted May 15, about a month prior to average last frost date. I prepared the potatoes by cutting them and “chitting” them. I dug trenches in the soil about 8=10” deep and placed the potatoes in the trenches; they were topped with a couple of inches of soil, then pine needle mulch.
As the potatoes sprouted and began to grow, the trenches were gradually filled in with soil until the surface was even. I ended up removing the pine needle mulch a couple of times and replacing it, but it worked. (The second year I was not so good about mulching and didn’t add the mulch until much later to alleviate the job of removing & replacing it. I think it would have been better to keep them mulched from the beginning as I had done the first year.)
These potatoes grew like crazy. This photo shows the potato plants growing and overflowing their beds. They were so tall and sprawled out the sides, I eventually pruned the plants back, hoping they’d put more energy into the potatoes, rather than the plants.
The first year I selected seed potatoes that had early maturity: “80+ days to maturity”. I wanted to be sure they’d make it before fall freezing temps. I wanted a russet and a red potato, so I chose “Pioneer Russet” and “Desiree”, both from Peaceful Valley. They both grew wonderfully.
The second year I thought I’d get the same two, plus two more, “Yukon Blush” (65+ days) and “French Fingerling” (80+ Days). I ordered all these online, as I had done the previous year. I also had saved just a few from the prior year to use as seed potatoes and planted those in addition to the seed potatoes I’d purchased. I wanted to know how well my own seed potatoes would do as compared with the purchased ones. Most books and websites highly recommend purchasing seed potatoes each year. I wondered why? Are these people all getting kickbacks from the companies that sell the “certified” seed potatoes? As it turned out, the Desiree seed potatoes I’d saved grew about the same as those purchased.
In the case of the Pioneer Russet (PR), the PR seed potatoes I’d saved did better than those purchased the second year, also from Peaceful Valley. In fact, I wondered whether the PR seed potatoes I ordered were really the same potato. They looked different than they had the first year, and they did not perform nearly as well. In the second year these potatoes were thin-skinned and many of them cracked in the ground prior to harvest. They were not nearly as abundant as they had been the first year.
This year I’m attempting to save all the potatoes I’ll need to plant as seed potatoes for 2020. The question is whether I can get them to last that long in storage. I’m doing what I can to store them as long as possible in our new “cold closet”. I’ll try to provide an update sometime in the spring. Based on the harvest yields below, I will not be planting Yukon Blush.
2019 POTATO HARVEST
Pioneer Russet | 2 lbs seed potatoes (purchased), Yield: 15.5 lbs
Pioneer Russet | a few seed potatoes saved from 2018, Yield: 3.33 lbs
Desiree | 1 lb seed potatoes (purchased), Yield: 30 lbs (The largest potato was 18.5 ounces!)
Desiree | a few seed potatoes saved from 2018, Yield: 3.25 lbs
Yukon Blush | 1 lb seed potatoes (purchased), Yield: 7 lbs
French Fingerling | 1 lb seed potatoes (purchased), Yield: 16 lbs