If you like potatoes, you’re in luck here at high elevation! Potatoes are one of the things that grow very well here. We’ve often heard stories of 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 ever since.
Knowing that potatoes require somewhat acidic soil (pH 5-6), I plan ahead to acidify the soil in the beds to be used for potatoes. Each fall those beds are chosen. I add some pine needles to break down in the soil over the winter, and mulch those beds with more pine needles. We have plenty of pine needles laying around. They don’t add a lot of acid, but I use what I have. When those beds are prepared for planting in the spring I add soil acidifiers to lower the pH, along with compost and an all-around fertilizer.
Weather permitting, potatoes are generally planted May 15, about a month prior to our average last frost date. I prepare the potatoes by cutting them and “chitting” them. Trenches are dug in the soil about 8-10” deep and the seed potatoes are placed in the trenches and topped with a couple of inches of soil, then pine needle mulch. My “companion planting” list tells me that it is helpful to add comfrey leaves to the trench when planting, so I’ve been doing that as well.
As the potatoes sprout and begin to grow taller, the trenches are gradually filled in with soil until eventually the surface is even. As I fill the trenches, I remove and replace the pine needle mulch.
In 2019 the 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.
2018: FIRST YEAR OF POTATOES
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. I did not weigh the harvest of these potatoes, but I was impressed that 1 lb of each of these seed potatoes produced such a nice harvest.
2019: A BUMPER CROP
I decided to grow the Pioneer Russet and Desiree potatoes since they’d done so well the previous year, 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 from Peaceful Valley that year. 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.
2020: A BUST
During the winter of 2019-20 I saved as many of the Pioneer Russet and Desiree potatoes as I could to use as seed potatoes that spring. I wasn’t sure they’d last that long in storage, but they did well in our new “cold closet”, and I was able to use these as seed potatoes.
The 2020 potato harvest was a bust! Very few potatoes were harvested, and I was quite disappointed. But, “Every Year Is Different”. What caused this?
- I used all my own saved potatoes as seed potatoes. Did this make a difference?
- After the potatoes had sprouted and they were still quite small we had snow on June 9th and then frost on June 20th. The potatoes had been covered with frost cloth, but perhaps this was not enough. Several of the leaves died. These were cut back, but perhaps this stunted their growth.
- Pack rats ate several of the potato leaves: a few the end of May, but quite a lot the end of August.
- An early snow, September 9th, finished off the season early. Normally we could have had more growth during the month of September.
I did not weigh the potato harvest of 2020, but I would guess there were no more than 10 lbs total, of the Desiree & Pioneer Russet varieties.