Growing Small Potatoes

Many gardeners love hand-harvesting small, immature potato tubers early in the season from beneath still-growing plants. They tend to be extra sweet and tender.
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How to Grow Potatoes 05:02

Joe Lamp'l shows how to plant, grow and harvest potatoes.

It takes about four months for most potato plant varieties to produce fully mature tubers which store well for months; however, many gardeners begin harvesting a month or more earlier, gently hand-pulling very tender small potatoes from beneath the still-living plants.

Because of the sugars in the small potatoes have not converted to starches, they may not store as long but taste a bit sweeter, making them ideal for soups, salads, roasting, and other side dishes. Their early harvest brings bragging rights to gardeners, as well as saving money because they are so expensive in stores. Plus, they quickly free up valuable garden space for warm-season vegetables.

Growing Small Potatoes

All potatoes are generally planted the same way, from mature tubers cut into small, egg-size pieces each with one or two stem-bud “eyes” set a foot or so apart garden rows, low mounds, raised beds, or containers. To avoid decay in cool, wet soils, allow the cut tubers, called seed pieces, to dry a few days until they heal over, then dust with natural garden sulfur (available at garden centers).

Potatoes require at least six or eight hours of direct sun daily, and ample moisture during tuber production which begins about two months after planting. Though new plants can tolerate frost, they grow and produce best during cool weather, neither freezing nor remaining above the mid-80s; plant in late February, March, or early April depending on your area’s weather, or in late summer or fall at least three months before winter’s first anticipated freeze.

Add a small amount of all-purpose fertilizer at planting time with a small extra helping a month or so after planting. As plants grow, “hill” them – pile soil or mulch around the bases to keep lower stems completely covered – to reduce tuber “greening” which makes them taste bitter and can actually indicate poisonous levels of the natural plant alkaloid called solanine which makes tubers dangerous to eat.   

Harvesting Small Potatoes

Within two and a half or three months you can start sifting gently through soil at the base of each stem to gather small new potatoes, leaving some to continue enlarging. Do not wash them, just dust off excess soil, and store them temporarily in a cool, dry, dark place. Once harvested they should be eaten within a week or two before they shrivel or begin to decay.

A Few Good Varieties

While most potato varieties can be harvested early while small, there are several which are generally small even when mature. Not all are easy to find locally; when ordering online, be sure to shop early before the most popular kinds sell out.

Two popular small purple potato varieties include While Purple Majesty, and Purple Pelisse. Yukon Gold is one of the trendiest small yellow potatoes, but Bambino is a small, firm yellow variety. Small white potatoes include the standard Superior. Norland and Red Lasoda both have nice red skin. Anya is a small but long, brown fingerling potato with yellow flesh and a good flavor. 

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