ENCOURAGE SPROUTING: Pre-sprout seed potatoes before you put them in the
ground. Exposing them to light encourages them to form nubs of growing shoots from the
eyes (each eye is a dormant bud). Plants treated by "chitting," as this process
is called, root quickly and mature earlier than those without sprouts. Chitting is simple:
Just spread the potatoes in a sunny indoor place for two to three weeks before planting.
CUT AND DRY: Cutting removes the dominance of the eyes grouped at one end of the
potato and encourages all of them to sprout. About a week before planting time, cut each
large seed potato into pieces weighing about three or four ounces with one to two eyes
each. Spread the piece out in a single layer for a few days. The dried flesh is less
likely to rot than raw cut surfaces once planted out in the cold, wet soil typical of
an early-spring garden. Why not plant a whole potato? Because the many eyes on a large
potato will grow into a multi-stemmed plant that bears many small potatoes.
PREPARE A FURROW: Potatoes like loose, well-drained soil. Wait until the soil
has dried enough to be workable, so it will be well broken up into fine crumbs. Soggy soil
studded with clods discourages the growth of any plant or seed. Hoe each furrow about three or four
inches deep. Rows in the garden should be 30 to 36 inches apartwide enough to permit
tilling, hilling, or mulching between them. If you plant in a raised bed, the furrows can
be closer, about a foot or so apart. Enrich the furrow with an inch or two of compost,
well-aged manure, or bagged dehydrated manure. (Do not use fresh manure, as it may
encourage disease.) Mix it with the soil in the bottom of the furrow.
PLANTING: Set the seed-potato pieces in place about 10 or 12 inches apart in the
furrow. (In the rich soil of a raised bed, you can plant them slightly closer.) Plant them
cut-side down, so the eye will be uppermost, and press them firmly into the soft soil. At
this time, place about 1 to 2 tablespoons of 12-12-12 fertilizer between the potato
pieces. Then rake about three inches of fine loose soil over them. (After potatoes start
growing, fertilize again with 12-12-12.)
HILLING UP: The new crop of potatoes will form above, not below, the seed
potatoes you planted. Hilling up the row gives them an easily penetrated mound of soil to
grow into and prevents greening from exposure to the sun. (Green potatoes are unfit to eat
because they contain the toxic alkaloid solanine.) Hilling is easier done right after
rototilling the paths between the rows or beds, when the soil is loose and deeply worked.
If you garden with hand tools, use a garden fork to loosen the soil first. Use a hoe or
rake to draw up the loose soil from the aisles, banking it high over the potato plants but
leaving four or five inches of stem and leaf uncovered.