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Dig In: How to plant potatoes in Idaho, without breaking the law

Dig In video series: Plant spuds without breaking Idaho law

This is Episode 2 of the weekly Statesman "Dig In" gardening video series. Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith explains why it's a bad idea - even illegal - to plant a potato from your pantry. Also, basic planting tips.
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This is Episode 2 of the weekly Statesman "Dig In" gardening video series. Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith explains why it's a bad idea - even illegal - to plant a potato from your pantry. Also, basic planting tips.

Around the time I got the idea to do a “how-to” video gardening series, I sent a photo of a sprouting potato to Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith to ask her about planting it. I had no prior experience with potatoes, other than eating them.

Should I throw the whole thing in the ground? Cut it into sections? How many taters could I expect to grow from this one potato?

I was surprised when the conversation quickly took a turn toward Idaho law. Wait, what?

“So here’s the strange thing. It is illegal to plant a potato from the (grocery/food) store in your yard,” she said, dashing my plans to bury it in the dirt that weekend.

By way of explanation, she sent me a University of Idaho Extension publication that details permitted potato planting practices in the Famous Potatoes State.

“Tubers sold for human food do not carry the required certifications and should never be used for home garden plantings,” said the article, which was authored by Ariel Agenbroad and Susan Bell.

OK then.

The intent of the laws governing potato planting is to protect agricultural crops from devastating diseases. Home gardeners in Idaho should only plant potato seed tubers that have been certified disease-free. Potato seeds can be purchased at garden centers, retail outlets and mail order (seeds that aren’t available for shipment to Idaho are likely not certified, the experts say).

Planting potatoes is pretty easy, once you have the right seed — as this week’s video shows.

The basics: Dig a shallow hole, drop the potato seed tuber in it. Then create a small mound of dirt on top of it. In about four weeks, after the plant is growing gangbusters, pile more dirt on top of the mound. That will encourage more potatoes to grow.

Pro tip: Potato plant vines grow up, and when they get tall they sometimes tip over. A tomato cage can help keep them upright.

Yield for each plant: 3 to 5 pounds of potatoes.

Debbie has a tradition of sprinkling glitter on the potatoes she plants. Watch the video to find out why.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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