Catherine Bennett's Potato Growing Tips
Exclusive growing tips from Milkweed Tussock Tubers
Upstate potato farmer Catherine Bennett knows her tubers. She grows about 16 varieties of potatoes at Milkweed Tussock Tubers, her regenerative, no-till farm in De Peyster, NY. Read our recent Grower Profile with Catherine here and find her potato growing tips below. Catherine says, "Know that your operation - whether you have a farm, a kitchen garden, a food forest or a pot of basil on the porch - is just as legitimate a way to grow as any other."
Catherine Bennett's Potato Growing Tips:
- Cold, wet soil can cause your seeds to rot.
- Potato plants like sun. I've tried planting in the shade and had low production.
- Potatoes are negatively impacted by high-nitrogen fertilizers. They become more susceptible to disease, and actually put more energy into their leaves than their tubers. Instead of using a purchased fertilizer, try top-dressing with compost, or making your own compost tea. Something that's going to give the plants a slow release.
- Pick off Colorado Potato Beetles early in the day, before the sun's warmth really penetrates the air. Do this every day, or you just might find a skeletonized plant.
- The critical time to water your potato plants is once they begin blooming. Watering before is good, but if you're in a drought and have to make tough decisions, water the spuds while and after they bloom. This is about the same time they begin forming tubers, so this is when they need the most hydration. Watering in the evening or early morning also decreases evaporation.
- Not all potatoes are the same! Some take longer to produce - don't be disappointed if everyone else is harvesting in August and your plants are still bushy.
- On that note, harvesting is typically done after the plant dies back. Salt or pig potatoes can be pulled off the side roots early on, but your biggest harvest is later in the season.
- That idea that you can grow 100 pounds in a potato tower by continuously building soil around the plant stem: it's a myth. It's not true. I've tried it time and time again, as have many, many experienced potato breeders and keepers. I don't care what YouTube tells you, there are only a couple varieties even slightly inclined to grow in such an environment, and they are incredibly rare and unavailable commercially.
- Encourage beneficial insects. Plant flowers, DON'T spray, build houses for pollinators, sing them songs and let them know that they are welcome. There are at least a dozen insects who will consume Colorado Potato Beetle larvae - ladybugs, lacewings, mantids, soldier and shield bugs - in addition to spiders. They are your friends.
- Potatoes need love, and so do the growers. I go out to the fields and I sing while I plant, I talk and listen, I add extra mulch if it seems like the plants are asking for some. Farming is about relationships. Good farming is about nurturing those relationships.