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Prepare for potato planting
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Now is the time to start preparing your garden for potato plantings.

Potatoes are a cool-season crop that may be planted long before other summer garden vegetables.

Good planting times depend on the weather and soil conditions, but a general recommendation is to plant during the first part of April here in the northern part of the state.

It is best to wait until the soil is dried out before tilling.

If the soil is worked when it is still wet, it can become hard and compacted.

Potatoes can adapt to several different soil types, but they must have good drainage to avoid rot.

When choosing seed potatoes look for certified disease-free labeling.

Irish potatoes will do very well here, as well as white- and red-skinned varieties, and several varieties with yellow, purple or pink flesh.

Avoid planting the thick-skinned russet potatoes seen in grocery stores, as they do not do well in our environment.

Cut up seed potatoes into small pieces with one to three eyes per piece. Wait a few days after cutting your seed potatoes before planting to allow them to heal and avoid rot.

Plant your seed potatoes in rows spaced two feet apart, leaving 15 inches between each seed in the row.

Seeds should be planted four inches deep with the eyes facing up.

Mound the soil over the top of the new rows to form mounds.

Apply a complete fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 at 1.5 pounds per 100 square feet.

Apply a band of fertilizer three weeks after plant stems appear above the soil.

Side-dress in a band on either side of the row with a high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as ammonium nitrate.

Harvest will generally begin in the early summer.

The young tubers called "new" potatoes can be harvested before they reach full size.

Begin to harvest the new potatoes when the flowers first appear, or when the potatoes turn yellow.

Carefully dig into the side of your mound and harvest the larger potatoes.

This should not reduce overall yield if done properly.

Leave the rest of the crop for later harvesting.

Wait to harvest the mature potatoes as the tops of the plants begin to die back.

Use a digging fork to remove the mature tubers.

Take the best looking tubers for immediate use.

To store the potatoes for later use, allow them to air-dry for a week or two.

Do not wash the potatoes until you plan to use them.

Store tubers in a dark, cool, dry place until needed.

Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.