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7 Tips for Growing Potatoes

Potatoes can be one of the easiest staple crops to grow, providing pounds of food for relatively little effort. Unfortunately, they can also have many problems! If you’ve struggled to grow large harvests of good-quality potatoes, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are a few simple steps to take to have a more successful year. Here are our best tips for growing potatoes.

Always Rotate Your Potatoes & Nightshades

Unfortunately, potatoes are susceptible to a number of diseases, including the destructive pathogen Phytophthora infestans, which caused the late potato blight of the notorious potato famine.

One of the best ways to avoid this and other diseases is to always rotate your potato crops, ideally on a three to four-year rotation. This rotation should include all the other nightshades that could play host to the same diseases, including peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, okra, and eggplants. Don’t plant any of these in the same bed for three to four years.

Water Consistently While Growing Potatoes

Many folks don’t irrigate potatoes even if they water their other crops. The assumption is that potatoes are a bit tougher. While they are in some ways, inconsistent watering can lead to decreased production and serious issues like hollow heart a type of cell death inside the tuber that creates a hollow in the center.

Potatoes should receive 1 to 2 inches of water or rain per week. This is crucial while they’re flowering and forming tubers. When the potato plants start to turn yellow and die back, you can discontinue watering to allow for a drier, easier harvest.

Flowering potato plant with potato beetle larvae
Flowering potato plant with potato beetle larvae

Watch for Potato Beetles

Colorado potato beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) can be a major issue for many gardeners, defoliating entire plants. Unfortunately, they’re resistant to many pesticides, both organic and conventional. The best way to deal with them is to watch for them carefully and handpick them into a bucket of soap water. You can also smash the eggs and larvae.

Check out this helpful University of Minnesota Extension article to learn how to identify them in their different life stages.

Get Your Soil Tested

 for Growing Potatoes

Potatoes aren’t super picky, but they do perform best in specific soil conditions. Light, well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter is ideal. They thrive in acidic soil when the pH is 4.8 – 5.5. Potatoes are more susceptible to scab in soil with a pH of 6.0 or higher.

Potatoes also need good levels of certain nutrients. To produce well, they need decent levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Low potassium levels can also contribute to issues like hollow heart. Adding good quality compost to your soil can help with these things, but it’s worth getting a soil test, especially if you’ve had problems in the past. 

Hill Up Your Potatoes When the Stems Reach 6 to 8 Inches Tall

Re-burying your potato stems may seem like an odd idea, especially if you’re new to gardening, but it is crucial for good potato harvests. Potatoes produce tubers along the stem; when you hill them up so that only the top leaves stick out of the soil, new potatoes form along the stem in the new section of soil.

Hilling potatoes also helps with weed and moisture control and minimizes greening on potatoes that may have been forming near the surface. It also helps keep the soil cooler in the heat of summer.
Rows of potato plants (growing potatoes)

Plant a Late Potato Crop for Storage

If you just grow a few potatoes for fresh eating, you can plant them in early spring. Many folks choose St. Patrick’s Day as the traditional spring planting day. However, if you want good storage potatoes, planting some late potatoes is a good idea. We usually plant a second batch in June. These late potatoes may have a lower yield but store better for winter eating.

Harvest, Cure, and Store Potatoes Properly

You can gently harvest a few fresh potatoes about 2 to 3 weeks after the plants flower. However, your main harvest should come 2 to 3 weeks after the plants have died back completely. This ensures they will keep well. Then, potatoes must be adequately cured before they can go into storage.

Visit our Harvesting and Curing Potatoes post for the full process.


There are many wonderful potato varieties available for the home garden, from tried-and-true favorites like Yukon Gold to newer varieties like the beautiful Adirondack Blue. These potatoes make excellent, productive staple crops, especially if you give them a little care. Follow these seven tips for growing potatoes to have a successful harvest this season.

Growing Guide: Ground Cherries

You’ve probably grown tomatoes and maybe even tomatillos, but their lesser-known relative, the ground cherry, deserves a spot in your Solanaceae (nightshade family) lineup. Ground cherries have a more sweet, fruity flavor, hence the name ground cherry. They’re well suited to sweeter, dessert-type recipes than their relatives and are tasty fresh, too!

Ground Cherry History

Ground cherries are native to South and Central America and may have originated in Brazil before spreading to Peru and Chile. They were one of the many crops cultivated by indigenous peoples in the Americas before European contact, and Europeans brought them to England in 1774.

English colonists brought them to the Cape of Good Hope, earning them one of their other common names, the Cape Gooseberry. As colonists traveled with them, the plants made their way back to North America. 

While ground cherries were popular with small farmers, they were never commercialized, probably due to their ripening and harvest, which we’ll get into in a bit. Today, they remain popular among specific communities like the Pennsylvania Dutch, who grow them for jams and preserves.

Starting Ground Cherry Seeds

Growing ground cherries is a lot like growing tomatoes! Start your seeds indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost. Plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep, and for good germination, maintain a soil temperature between 75 and 85 degrees F.

Ground cherries typically take 7 to 10 days to germinate.

Transplanting Ground Cherries

Ground Cherries should be transplanted out after all danger of frost has passed. Harden off your transplants for a couple of weeks before planting.

Transplant them into a bed that has rich, well-drained, light soil. You may need to amend the bed with compost, as ground cherries are heavy feeders. You should also select a bed that receives full sun.

Rotate Your Ground Cherries

Rotating your crops is essential, and ground cherries are no exception. We like to rotate crops by family. Ground cherries are a member of the Solanaceae family, like tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, eggplants, and potatoes, so we avoid planting them in beds where any of these crops have grown in the last couple of years.

Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherries
One of our customer favorites, Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherries

Ground Cherry Spacing

Unlike tomatoes and tomatillos, ground cherries don’t require trellising or cages. However, they still need proper spacing. Ground cherries have a sprawling, spreading growth form, so you should place them 2 to 4 feet apart. In some varieties, like Mary’s Niagara Ground Cherry, plants can surpass 6 feet wide in good growing conditions. 

Ground Cherry Care

Keep your ground cherries weeded and water consistently. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. After the soil temperature has risen in June, mulching around plants is a good idea. It will help with weeding and prevent the fruits from getting dirty or rotting as quickly around harvest time.

Harvesting Ground Cherries 

Ground cherries are edible and tasty when fully ripe and yellow, and their husk is brown and dry. Usually, this also means the cherries have fallen off the plant and are lying on the ground. Collect your fallen cherries and remove the husks before eating. 

This habit of dropping ripe fruit is one of the reasons ground cherries have never seen widespread commercial interest.

Using Ground Cherries

Ground cherries can be eaten fresh, cooked, or preserved for later. Ground cherries also have a good shelf life and can be kept fresh for weeks before processing. Here are a few of our favorite recipes we’ve found for ground cherries:

Preserve your ground cherries for later with Grandma Ott’s Ground Cherry Jam from Seed Savers.

Make breakfast special with this 10-Minute Ground Cherry Coffee Cake from The Kitchn.

Try this Ground Cherry Tart from The Forager Chef for a simple dessert that really lets the ground cherry flavor shine through.

Try a more savory approach with this recipe from Ground Cherry Salsa from Health Starts in the Kitchen.

Turn your ground cherries into moist and delicious cake with this Coley Cooks recipe for Ground Cherry Torte.

Saving Ground Cherry Seed

You may not have to save seeds, as ground cherries have a strong tendency to self-sow. However, if you’d like to steward a variety, we recommend separating varieties by 300 feet for pure seed. You only need one plant to save viable seeds, but if you want to maintain a variety over many generations, save seeds from between 5 and 20 plants.

Processing and saving the seeds is exactly like processing tomato seeds. Squeeze the seeds and pulp into a jar, add about as much water, and let the mixture ferment for 2 to 3 days, stirring once a day. A little mold growth on top is fine.

After fermenting, add more water so that the pulp and non-viable seeds float to the surface and pour them off. You may need to repeat this a couple of times. Then, rinse your good seeds in a mesh strainer or cheesecloth with clean water.

Let your seeds dry out of direct sunlight for three weeks. Then, store them in an airtight container out of the sun.

Guide to Growing Rice

Carolina Gold Rice

Though it may seem like an odd time of year to read about growing rice it’s actually a really good time to start planning for next season. Rice is a long season crop and preparation this fall can really benefit your rice harvest.

There’s also a few misconceptions about growing rice that make it less popular than it perhaps should be.

The first is that rice requires flooding. Flooding is actually just a method of weed control. Rice does well in water while other plants like weeds do not. However it can be grown with just and inch of irrigation or rain per week. However if you happen to have a wet area on your property you’d like to put into production rice could be your answer.

The second misconception is that rice can only be grown in really warm areas. In fact there are varieties of rice that can be grown as far north as Vermont. SESE has varieties that are best suited to the south and mid-atlantic regions.

Lastly rice is often seen as a crop for big farmers and not necessarily backyard gardeners but you don’t need big fields or machinery to get a nice rice crop. It’s perfectly easy to grow and cultivate with hand tools. The only special equipment you need is a rice de-huller and you can find a variety of home scale models available.

Selecting & Preparing a Plot

Whether you choose to flood your rice or just irrigate it, water is probably the biggest concern when choosing a plot. Make sure it’s an area you can easy water because of its irrigation needs.

Rice also does best in fertile, nitrogen-rich soil. Compost is the perfect fertilizer for rice so if you select a plot this fall you can add about 1lb per square foot of compost and till it in. You can also grow a winter-kill cover crop like buckwheat this fall. In the spring the dead buckwheat will act as a mulch and you can plant your rice through it. The mulch will help hold moisture and prevent weeds.

Planting Rice

Hmong Sticky Rice

Rice can be planted two ways either direct sown or transplanted. For transplants seeds should be started 6-8 weeks before your desired planting date.

Direct seed or transplant rice in rows 9-12 inches apart with plants about 6 inches apart in the row. Rice isn’t always grown in rows however this method has been shown to increase yields as the rice has plenty of space and nutrients and can be easily cultivated.


Rice doesn’t do well with weed pressure so be sure to keep it well weeded. Small plantings of rice typically aren’t bothered by pests or disease although birds will feed on rice as it ripens so you may choose to use netting.


The rice should be harvested once it’s dry and brown. There are two methods for harvesting. You can cut the entire plant as close to the ground as possible or cut just the seed head. Whatever you choose it should be noted that leaving the straw on the field will add nutrients and keep your soil healthy for next year.

Once harvested, rice should be threshed and winnowed. There are machines made specifically for threshing but basically you’re just trying to break other plant material free from the grains of rice. A common method is to place the rice in a 5-gallon bucket and use a drill with a paint stirring attachment to break it up.

After threshing the rice should be winnowed. This process can be done in front of a fan by pouring the rice into a bowl and allowing the fan to blow away the lighter plant material while the grains fall straight down into the bowl. This will need to be repeated several times before all the material is gone.

Unlike wheat, rice also has to be de-hulled as it probably won’t come off during the threshing process. Rice can be de-hulled by rubbing it between your hands but it’s a strenuous and uncomfortable process. If you enjoy growing rice it’s probably worth investing in a home de-huller.

Finally you can enjoy your rice! Just like other crops growing your own can allow you to branch out into more varieties and tastes than the one or two offered at the grocery store.