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Originally published Saturday, June 25, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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It's not Idaho, but you still can grow potatoes

You don't need your own private Idaho to grow potatoes. Greg Lutovsky, who has been growing potatoes as a business since 1993, says you...

Special to The Seattle Times

You don't need your own private Idaho to grow potatoes.

Greg Lutovsky, who has been growing potatoes as a business since 1993, says you can grow 100 pounds of potatoes in 4 square feet. All it takes is some lumber, seed potatoes and careful attention to watering.

In Western Washington, potatoes can be planted as late as Aug. 1, with a harvest sometime in November, said Lutovsky. He now grows seed potatoes for the wholesale market after operating Garden City Seeds in Thorp, Kittitas County, with his wife, Sue, for the past decade.

In fact, gardeners who got in an early planting in April can now get started on their second crop.

A usual method of growing potatoes is to dig a trench, plant the seed potatoes in the bottom and then shovel the dirt back in as the plant grows, covering about a third of it.

"A lot of people think you plant a potato and that the new ones grow below it, but that's not so," Lutovsky said. "Potatoes grow between the seed piece and the above-ground plant."

So in the trench method, the new potatoes develop in the soil that is shoveled back in.

Potato pointers


Here are some growing tips from Greg Lutovsky:

• Cut apart larger seed potatoes, making sure there are at least two eyes in each piece you plant.

• Dust the cut pieces with fir dust, which seals the open ends from bacteria.

• Fertilize with 10-20-20 fertilizer at planting and a couple of times during the season.

• Water so that the plants are kept at an even level of moisture.

• Don't plant in the same area in consecutive years or use the same soil to fill your potato box, as potatoes can attract various diseases.

• His recommended potato varieties for Western Washington include: Yellow Finn, Yukon Gold, Caribe, Red Pontiac and Red Lasoda.

To save space, Lutovsky recommends building a box and planting inside it, adding sides to the box as the plant grows and filling the new space with mulch or soil.

When the plant blossoms, it starts setting potatoes in this added soil. Soon after that, you can start removing the bottom boards from your box and "robbing" the plant, reaching in carefully and pulling out new potatoes.

Unless you steal all of them during the growing season, in the fall you should end up with a box of spuds — as much as 100 pounds, said Lutovsky.

Watering at an even rate is especially important when growing potatoes in a box, he said, since they will dry out faster in the container than in the ground.

"Don't drown and then let the potatoes dry out. Repeating that cycle throughout the year is a guarantee that you'll grow knobby, scabby potatoes," Lutovsky said.

Your full potato crop is ready to be harvested when frost kills the tops. Or, in the absence of frost, you can cut off the tops yourself, wait 10 days to two weeks for the skins to firm up and then take your box apart completely, sorting the potatoes from the soil.

Fall and winter temperatures and humidity in Western Washington are ideal for storing potatoes, and you can keep potatoes in a paper sack or basket in a garage.

Material for the box can be expensive, depending on the type of wood you choose. But the box can be used for several years if you buy wood that won't rot easily despite being out in weather.

You can also plant potatoes in solid containers, but you won't be able to rob the new potatoes as they are ready.

Or, you can plant potatoes in a tire lying on the ground and stack on new ones as the plant grows, filling each new tier with dirt. But again, you can't rob your plant.

And there's another drawback: Get that many tires in your yard and you're bound to end up the subject of a Jeff Foxworthy joke.

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