Go and Proclaim Ministries South Africa
Home | About us | All Events | Prayer Initiatives | Community Work | Sitemap | Sitemap: Afrikaans | Contact us

How to Grow Potatoes

When the chips are down

Potatoes are one of the easiest and most rewarding crops to grow. Give it a try. There are many varieties available that make it easy for gardeners to grow their favorite kind. Google your nearest potato seed growers. Potato seeds are not what people think it is. It is just a glorified potato ready to reproduce grown by some expert.

We have included the steps here for growing potatoes organically in your backyard, plot or pot. Growing potatoes commercially will require a different approach that we have not discussed here. If you are a gardener or subsistence farmer this information can help you to become a proud potato grower. We share our own experiences here and therefore are confident that if you follow these guidelines you will be successful in growing your own potatoes.


Potatoes from our very dry 2021 backyard (Siffra Variety)

Yes, Potatoes have a heritage
Wild potato species occur throughout the Americas, both north and South America up to southern Chile. It is believed, and it was later proved through genetic testing, that potatoes originated in the area of what is today Southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia. It was in these areas that potatoes were first domesticated between 7000 and 10000 years ago. Most probably it was consumed in various cooked forms or even consumed raw before the French, not so long ago, came up with the ingenious idea of cutting it into strips and frying it. Maybe it was not the French to do it first but they nevertheless got the honors for it.

Today through selective breeding there are more than 1000 varieties of potatoes. Because of their origins in the Andes region, it is understandable that potatoes grow well in dryer climates and have therefore become the world’s fourth-largest food crop after rice, wheat and maize. You can’t go wrong by growing your own potatoes.

The even have a family history
Getting the order, family and subfamily of plants right is often difficult and confusing, unless you are a Botanist. Then there is also subfamilies of subfamilies often refer to as tribes. Potatoes form part of the Solanaceae family and of the subfamily Solanoideae. These are all flowering plants that include well-known and widely grown agricultural crops. The Solanaceae family is also known as the nightshade or potato family. The name is derived from the Latin word Solanum that somehow relates to the word nightshade. This family of plants includes among others: chili peppers and bell peppers (subfamily capsicum); tomatoes and eggplant (subfamily solanum); tobacco (subfamily nicotiane). The Solanaceae family of plants are often rich in alkaloids, a chemical substance found in the leaves of these plants and which is toxic to animals and humans. Remember this one. For instance, tomato leaves contain these alkaloids and should not be eaten.

How to plant potatoes
* Select a suitable area in your garden or plot to grow your own potatoes. The area should preferably level and have excess soil available that can be used at a later stage.
* Prepare the soil by turning it with a hoe or garden fork to about 30cm deep. That is about the length of a spade. Remove all weeds, sticks, and rocks.
* If water is available water the soil after turning it.
*Dig a trench roughly 60cm wide and 20cm deep (more or less one spade deep). Space trenches 80cm—90cm apart
* Add compost and or manure to the trench. There is no golden rule here and one could use your own judgment. One can never use too much compost. Composted manure is preferred over uncomposted manure. Chicken manure should be used sparingly if not composted. Compost and manure feed and nourish the soil and add nutrients that will be used by the plants later. If bone meal is available one can also use a few hands full. Ash from a fire can also be added. It should be ash only and not charcoal. This might lower soil ph. Potatoes prefer a lower soil ph than many other crops.
* Plant the potato seeds 15cm apart in the trench. Use a measuring stick or rope to evenly space the seeds.
* Keep the soil or trench moist for the first two weeks and water every second day after that.
* Allow the potato stems to grow to about 10 cm above the soil and cover it then with excess soil. Repeat this process as the potato grows.
* Do not turn the soil close to the potato plants. The best is to leave it undisturbed. Remove all weeds by hoe or by hand. Do not use a garden fork.
* One can add compost, manure, bone meal, and ash to the areas between the rows every second week. Turn the soil lightly with a hoe or garden fork.
* Potatoes do best in unshaded areas. Potatoes are sensitive to frost so plant potatoes in frost-prone areas at the beginning of spring.

Potatoes like:
well-drained soil,
light soil,
deep soil,
soil full of organic matter,
minimum of 6 hours of full sunlight per day,
slightly acidic soils (ph 4,8-5,5),
raised beds.
How to grow potatoes from a tyre, I mean in a tyre.

* Use recycled tyres by stacking two tyres on top of each other. One can also use a single tyre for a start. Low-profile tyres if available work the best.
* Fill the tyre with a mixture of soil and compost, and or manure. Soil and compost can also be layered. Do not cover the bottom of the tyre to allow excess water to drain into the ground.
* Plant one potato seed in every set of tyres covering the seed to about 2cm with soil.
* Once the potato shoot has grown to about 10cm add another tyre and fill it with soil allowing the top of your potato plant to protrude above the soil.
* Instead of tyres one can also use a perforated sack. Roll down the sides of the sack to about one-third of its length. Unroll the sides and add more soil to the sack as the potato plant grows. This method requires more regular watering as water evaporates much faster from the soil this way. So it is not recommended for water-scarce areas.
* Keep soil moist for the first two weeks and water every second to the third day after that depending on climate conditions. Potatoes can do without regular watering so it is a recommended crop in dryer climates. Potatoes do not do well in soggy conditions as it rots easily.
* Check the plant on a regular basis for pests and diseases.

How to harvest potatoes
You will be able to harvest your first crop of potatoes in 6-8 weeks depending on the climate and soil conditions. Fertile soil and warmer climates produce potatoes quicker. Potatoes can be left much longer in the soil once they have grown to their full size. It is not uncommon for commercial farmers to leave their potatoes in the soil for a few months on end. This is not recommended when potatoes are grown organically as potatoes are easy prey for worms, moles, and other soil-bearing insects and organisms.

Those dreaded potato diseases 
Potatoes can be infected by many different viruses. Accurate diagnosis is important for the correct treatment and expert advice is often needed especially when potatoes are commercially grown. For the gardener and subsistence farmer, the best advice is to keep a regular lookout for any discoloration, mosaic patterns on leaves, stunting of the plant, leaf malformations, and tuber malformations. Symptoms are not always visible due to various conditions like the interaction between the virus and the plant, growing conditions, or the age of the plant when it is infected. This often results in the late diagnosis of diseases. The best cure for diseases by the gardener and small-scale farmer is prevention. Using certified seed tubers and providing the optimal growing conditions needed by the potato plant is the best way to prevent diseases.

The boring stuff or not so boring stuff- More Info on Potato Diseases
* International Potato Center - Lima Peru: Major Potato Diseases, Insects, and Nematodes PDF
* Michigan Potato Diseases - Brown Leaf Spot PDF
* Michigan Potato Diseases - Black Dot  PDF
* Michigan Potato Diseases - Early Blight PDF

A healthy crop of commercially grown potatoes in Patensie (Eastern Cape)

Usefull link: Cornell University Vegetable Planting Guide