How to Plant
Plant potatoes directly in the vegetable garden as soon as possible after you receive your mini-tubers. Potatoes are a cool season crop and mini-tubers should be planted prior to the last expected frost in spring if possible. Potatoes may also be grown as a fall crop in milder regions.
Select a location in full sun with good rich moist organic soil. Make sure you did not grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplant or potatoes in the bed the previous year to avoid disease problems. Potatoes prefer a soil pH of 4.8 to 6.0. Avoid poorly drained soils. Do not plant potatoes in freshly turned grass sod to avoid wireworms.
Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
Plant the entire mini-tuber, do not cut it up into smaller pieces. Lay the mini-tuber in a trench 4-5 inches deep and 6-8 inches wide and apply a light fertilizer at the bottom of the trench. Space the potatoes 10 to 12 inches apart with eyes up and cover with 2 or 3 inches of soil in rows spaced 2 feet apart.
If there is danger of frost cover the rows with newspaper until the shoots are 3-4 inches tall or the danger of frost is over. Plants emerge in 4-6 weeks.
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When plants are about 5 inches tall, hill up the soil from the sides of the trench around each plant almost covering the foliage, but allowing 2 inches of foliage to remain above the soil.
Continue this hilling process as the plants grow, usually about every two weeks. The hills keep the plants cool and prevent the potatoes from forming near the surface where light will cause the tubers to turn green and become poisonous. Hilling suppresses weeds and keeps roots deep in the soil where more moisture is available.
How to Grow
Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating. Cultivate carefully so as not to bruise or cut the young tubers forming just below the soil.
It is important to keep plants well watered during the growing season to ensure enough water for potato development. They prefer 1-2 inches of water per week, more during hot, dry spells. Uneven growth caused by periods of drought when the tubers are forming (around flowering time) will decrease production and result in knobby, cracked or hollow tubers. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It’s best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
In areas with sandy soil additional side dressings of fertilizer may be needed when the plants are about 12 inches tall and flowers first begin to appear.
Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
Potato hills can be bordered with rows of other cool-season vegetables such as cabbage transplants, direct-sown lettuce, celery, salad greens and root crops, onions, overwintered herbs, nasturtiums, and strawberry plants.
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Harvesting and Preserving Tips
Harvest “new potatoes” as soon as plants begin to flower, about 10 weeks after planting. Harvest mature potatoes about 15 weeks after planting.
When harvesting new potatoes work carefully to disturb the plants as little as possible. With your hands and a trowel gently lift the top layer of soil or mulch around the plants and pick as many potatoes as needed, then replace and firm the soil or mulch. Take only a few of these immature potatoes from each plant. The remaining potatoes will continue to grow and provide your main crop. For best flavor and vitamin content, plan to use new potatoes immediately after digging.
Dig mature potatoes for storing 2-3 weeks after the plants turn yellow and die back. Use a spading fork and work from the outside edge of each row, turning the soil over carefully so the potatoes are not damaged. Most of the crop will be in the top 6 inches of the soil. Harvest on a sunny day and leave them out to dry for an hour.
After harvesting store them in a dark, dry place for a week at 65-70 degrees F. Then store them at 35-40 degrees F out of the light.
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Note: The leaves of potato plants are poisonous to humans and animals.
Purple Potatoes May Pack Cancer Fighting Abilities
Compounds found in purple potatoes may help kill colon cancer stem cells and limit the spread of the cancer, according to researchers.
Baked purple-fleshed potatoes suppressed the growth of colon cancer tumors in petri dishes and in mice by targeting the cancer's stem cells. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. and responsible for more than 50,000 deaths annually, according to the American Cancer Society.
The researchers, who released their findings in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, used a baked purple potato because potatoes are widely consumed and typically baked before they are consumed, especially in western countries. They wanted to make sure the vegetables maintained their anti-cancer properties even after cooking.
In the initial laboratory study, the researchers found that the baked potato extract suppressed the spread of colon cancer stem cells while increasing their deaths. Researchers then tested the effect of whole baked purple potatoes on mice with colon cancer and found similar results. The portion size for a human would be about the same as eating a medium size purple-fleshed potato for lunch and dinner, or one large purple-fleshed potato per day.
According to the researchers, there may be several substances in purple potatoes that work simultaneously on multiple pathways to help kill the colon cancer stem cells, including anthocyanins and chlorogenic acid, and resistant starch.
"Our earlier work and other research studies suggest that potatoes, including purple potatoes, contain resistant starch, which serves as a food for the gut bacteria, that the bacteria can covert to beneficial short-chain fatty acids such as butyric acid," the researchers said. "The butyric acid regulates immune function in the gut, suppresses chronic inflammation and may also help to cause cancer cells to self-destruct."
The next step would be to test the whole food approach using purple potatoes in humans for disease prevention and treatment strategies. The researchers also plan to test the purple potatoes on other forms of cancer.Using evidenced-based foods as a proper cancer prevention strategy could complement current and future anti-cancer drug therapies. The researchers believe that foods could actually offer a healthier way to prevent cancer because they often have limited side effects compared to drug treatments. Purple potatoes could be potentially used in both primary and secondary prevention strategies for cancer.
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