Planting Potatoes from Seed

By , March 29, 2010

A few days ago I transplanted potato seedlings that I started from true seeds. Usually one plants a potato tuber and grows a clone of the parent plant. This is efficient, and all the good plant food contained in the potato gets the plant off to a healthy start. Unfortunately the tuber, being a clone, also contains all the diseases that the previous plant had, including susceptibility to scab, the ugly fungal disease that can make the potatoes rot in storage.

True potato seedlings (Photo: Michelle Zeiger)

Last year I collected some seeds from the red potatoes that I grew. Formed at the top of the plants, the seeds are in the true “fruit” of the potato plant and look like a hard green tomato. The seeds inside are impossibly small for such a large plant. My understanding is that I can grow them to mature plants with small potato tubers in one year, providing I start them indoors and quite early.

Being relatives of the tomato plant, I started some seeds in flats at the same time I started my tomato seeds. Since I wasn’t sure of the germination rate, I sowed a lot…too many, as nearly all the seeds sprouted. The seedlings were minute. Actually, six weeks later, they are still very tiny, but they all have at least one set of true leaves. So I transplanted them. They graduated up to a larger sized pot, set deep in the soil like I do my tomatoes.

I don’t have enough pots or windowsills available to pot all of them, so I am trying a couple of experiments with the “extras.” I put some in a planter in my greenhouse (which was over 80º in the March morning sun) and some in a cold frame in the garden. Our nights are still freezing, but the soil was warm and loose in both places. I have notes from a gardening class that say you can plant potato tubers when the soil is 45º, so I’ll see what happens. There are kale plants growing in the cold frame and many plants that survived the winter in the greenhouse, so I’m optimistic.

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