Home grown potatoes have a very distinct flavor, much more appealing than store bought varieties. Even better, potatoes are fairly simple to grow in your garden. With proper preparation and a sunny spot, you can have a pantry full of spuds for your family and friends. Potatoes are a staple for tables around the world. Full of nutrients, satisfying and easy to prepare, potatoes are loved by people of all ages. Baked, mashed, fried and boiled, you’ll never grow tired of this crop. Best Soil for Growing Potatoes Potatoes grow best in well drained soil that is light and loose. The pH levels should lean towards being acidic at anywhere between 5.8 and 6.5. They like organics and mixing compost into the vegetable patch is a good idea, although too much can contribute to the common potato scab disease. Fortunately your potatoes will grow fairly well even in less than optimum soil. Just make sure they are planted in a sunny spot. Potatoes should also be rotated every year over a three year cycle. When to Plant Potatoes Sow your seed potatoes directly into the garden about 4 to 5 weeks before the last frost date. Make sure to loosen the soil beforehand and if the conditions are too wet, it’s best to wait. In preparation for planting, you’ll need to get the seed potatoes ready. About 10 to 14 days before planting, put your seed potatoes out in a warm room where they can get full sun. Cut up the larger potatoes to 2” pieces that include at least one or two eyes. This exposure will get the seed potatoes ready for planting. How to Plant Potatoes Plant your potatoes in rows about 3 feet apart. Dig a 6 to 8” deep trench and lay the potato seeds about 15 inches apart. If you prefer baby potatoes, plant them with 4 inch spacing and harvest them early. Place the seeds cut side down and cover them with only 3 to 4” of soil. Don’t fill the trench yet. Once the seeds have sprouted in about 2 weeks you can fill the trench with another 3 to 4” of soil. Proper Care for Potatoes Once the plants grow to 8 inches above the soil level, pile more soil on top to reach about halfway up the stem. The same thing will need to be done about 2 or 3 weeks later. Potatoes are forming underground between that seed potato and the surface. You don’t want the crop to be exposed to light, as it will yellow and could be toxic to eat. Keep the soil well watered especially while it is flowering. Watch for the foliage to yellow and die back, which is the last stage before the potatoes mature and are ready to harvest. You can stop watering when that happens.Weed the patch gently and be careful not to pull out any of the potatoes or expose them to light in any way. When to Harvest Potatoes Small potatoes will be ready to harvest about 2 to 3 weeks after flowering. At any time after this you can begin to harvest, depending on the size of tuber you want. By 2 or 3 weeks after the foliage has died you can harvest the entire plant. If you planted late and the foliage hasn’t died back by the end of September simply cut off the foliage and leave the potatoes to mature underground for 2 to 3 weeks. Then harvest as below. How to Harvest Potatoes For early harvest, gently dig up and remove the largest potatoes, leaving the smaller ones to mature further. When harvesting the entire plant after the maturity period, use a spade to loosen the soil in a one foot circle around the plant. Dig and pull out each potato, being careful not to cut or nick any with your shovel. Once they are out of the ground you need to leave the potatoes to dry. If there is no rain in the forecast, lay them on top of the soil as they are for 2 or 3 days. If rain threatens, bring them into a dry, cooler area of the house like your garage or basement. Over this process the skin matures, allowing for the extended storage time that potatoes have. Common Potato Pests and Diseases Potato scab, a bacterial infection that is often caused by too many organics in the soil, impacts the appearance of your crop. It doesn’t necessarily affect the taste or nutritional value, but it does make them appear unattractive. Gardening Tips and Tricks for Growing Potatoes Try unusual varieties of potatoes, like purple or blue ones. Try growing potatoes in a container garden. They grow well in pots, especially grow bags. If you have undergroung pests that eat your seed potatoes, try planting the whole potato instead of cutting seed potatoes. Sometimes, cutting the seed potatoes opens them up to garden pests and rot. Your potato garden may seem like a lot of work. In reality you simply need to make sure the soil is covering the thriving plant, the area is consistently watered around flowering time and that you wait for the maturity stage to pass. After that you will have a delicious abundance of potatoes at your disposal. This is an enjoyable process of tending your garden that yields an impressive harvest.