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Saturday, April 28, 2012

How to Cut Seed Potatoes

In the spring, a gardener's thoughts turn to...
planting potatoes!  (What did you think I meant?)

My great aunt swore that potatoes must be planted on Good Friday.  I'm not quite that rigid, Easter was early, potatoes weren't here yet.  So late April it is.

I order my seed potatoes from a DECA club that sells garden seeds.  Always happy to support kids, especially kids learning business skills and gardening skills.

This year we're planting two different varieties:  Yukon Gold and Red Pontiac
You'll want to plant seed potatoes, either from your crop last year or from a seed source.  Not from the grocery store produce department.


You could just put each potato in the ground and they would grow, but it isn't very efficient.  To get the most out of the potato, we cut it into pieces.  Each piece must have at least 1 or 2 eyes.

What's an eye?  That little node right above my thumbnail.  That's where the roots and stems will grow from.

How important are eyes on a potato?  So important that even the young farmers know what makes the best potato.


This is NOT an eye.  It's the attachment point where the root was attached to the potato.

With large potatoes, I cut them roughly in half first.

Then I'll cut between those two eyes.


 The top half does have more eyes, but we will also cut that in half.  
Why not carve out each eye?  Because there has to be enough potato part left to feed the sprouts.  If you cut the potato into too small pieces, your sprouts won't have the energy to break through the soil and you won't have much of a crop.

We're not just blindly chopping here, look at each potato with a careful and critical eye to see where the eyes are located and how you can maximize each piece.  Yes, this will take time.  But you can't rush it. A practiced eye and hand will come through experience and you'll get faster.

This is about as small a piece as I will cut.  There's at least 3 eyes there.
Now, having said that, I have heard of German-Russian women who wouldn't waste anything who saved the potato peels and planted them in the spring.  I'll admit I've never tried it!  But you can't do it with store-bought potatoes, only homegrown.  Store potatoes are treated with an anti-sprout chemical.

That one potato will grow 4 plants!

With small potatoes such as these, I'll just cut them in half.

And then I'll lay the pieces out to cure and scab over in the bright sun and breeze. 

Why do we have to let them cure?  
If we just planted the pieces right away, a number of them would rot before they could send sprouts up.  We want to seal over the cut edge of the potato, it's called "scabbing over".  See the white starch starting to dry on this one?  That's the scab!  It takes 12-24 hours to scab over potatoes, depending on the temperature and wind.  I cut these potatoes before lunch and we'll plant them this evening because it's over 80 degrees with full sun and a brisk wind.
There is a danger of waiting too long.  A couple of years ago I cut potatoes and then the tiller broke down.  YIKES!  We had to wait three days to plant and they started to shrivel and turn black....NOT GOOD!  So, check your weather report, check your equipment and check with your husband before you start cutting seed potatoes.


Cutting potatoes is an art.  I learned it from my dad, who learned it from his aunt.  Dad and I would cut potatoes in the evening.  He could cut three times as many potatoes as I could.  

This is 100lbs of seed potatoes, 50lbs of each variety.  The Yukon Golds are on the left.  They are cut bigger because there are far fewer eyes on that variety.  Which is a good selling point for consumers who don't want to dig out eyes when peeling potatoes, but not so good for gardeners wanting to plant potatoes.  The Red Pontiacs on the right have many more eyes and thus we'll have more plants, probably 2/3 Pontiacs and 1/3 Yukons.




5 comments:

  1. This is exactly what I was going to research today since I hope to plant mine on Monday. Thanks for reading my mind!

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    1. Always happy to help!! Any other requests?? Song dedications??

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  2. What a great tutorial on cutting potatoes from seed. Today is Good Friday and if I had already scabbed them over, I would be out planting right now, but I guess I will just take them out cut and spread them on a tarp to dry a bit and plant tomorrow. My great grandpa always planted them earlier, on St. Patrick's Day and we are in Southern Ohio. Even if he had to move the snow, he would plant them on that day.

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  3. This is wonderful! Can you plant red and russet potatoes together in the same potato box (approx 3'x3')?

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  4. Hi Annie
    thanks - this great - I am in the UK planting potatoes on a sunny St Patrick's Day after a warm winter.
    Sorry if it's a cliche, but from over here you seem like a modern Laura Ingalls Wilder..!
    Fiona

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