Potatoes need space and sun, with fertile and well-drained sandy soil. Acid soil is best and reduces the likelihood of scab. Potatoes are tolerant of cool soil and moderate frost. In the spring, 2 to 3 weeks before the last average frost or as soon as the soil can be worked, plant "seed potatoes" 2 to 3" deep, 12" apart, in rows 2 1/2 to 3' apart. When plants are about 12" tall, hill with a 6- to 8-" high mound of straw, soil, or compost to keep developing tubers from exposure to sunlight. (Note: When exposed to sunlight, tubers turn green and develop a mildly toxic substance called solanine.) Also, leaving only a small portion of the vine exposed provides for additional root development. Once the plants blossom, stop hilling up the soil and apply a thick mulch to conserve moisture and control weeds. Water regularly and thoroughly. Dig early potatoes when tops begin to flower; dig mature potatoes when tops die down. Dig carefully to avoid bruising and cutting tubers.
The potato is a cool-season vegetable that ranks with wheat and rice as one of the most important staples in the human diet. The white potato is often referred to as the "Irish potato" because of Ireland’s 19th-century dependence on that vegetable as its primary food source. The Irish potato famine, caused by a blight also in the 19th century, points out the shortcomings of a nation-wide dependence on one variety of one crop type agriculture. The potato variety planted at that time was highly susceptible to that specific blight pathogen, and potato harvests were essentially nonexistent for several years. These past events, however, should not be a worry of the home gardener. Though not the most widely grown home garden vegetable, potatoes can be a very rewarding crop: 2 pounds of seed potatoes can yield 50 pounds of potatoes. There are more than 100 varieties of potatoes currently under cultivation, ranging from finger-sized tubers to tubers of such magnitude that one can feed a family. Colors of flesh include white, gray, golden, pink, deep yellow, and even a rich purple-blue.
Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, wireworms, and leafhoppers can reduce yields substantially. Potatoes are subject to several fungal, bacterial and viral diseases. Most can be avoided by rotating potatoes with non-Solanaceae crops, keeping the garden area free of debris and garden tools clean, and planting disease-free/disease-resistant cultivars. If diseases occur, remove and destroy all affected plants.