Starting seed potatoes and why we do it on Good Friday

Seed potatoes are traditionally planted on Good Friday, so I thought I’d share a potato post for anyone thinking about planting potatoes this spring.

why we plant seed potatoes on Good Friday

Also, I would like to note that this whole planting potatoes on Good Friday thing is just a tradition dating to way back when. Way back when, potatoes were a rather new thing in Europe. Way back when, Irish Protestants were not so fond of potatoes as they are now. In fact, way back when, they sort of had this idea that potatoes shouldn’t be eaten because they weren’t mentioned in the Bible. Irish Catholics skirted the issue by planting them on Good Friday, thereby baptizing the little spuds and making them holy. So now both Protestant and Catholic Irishman are well known for their love of potatoes. And the rest of us are stuck planting them on Good Friday and not even knowing why.

Or so I’ve read.

Either way, the whole Good Friday thing has nothing to do with what is best for the potato. But if you plant on any other day, every single person you mention it to will let you know that potatoes are to be planted on Good Friday. Nevermind the fact that the date varies every year. And that some Good Fridays we could be under a foot of snow.

Potatoes are to be planted on Good Friday and that is all.

But first you need a seed potato.

seed potato

Seed potatoes are potatoes set aside from the previous year’s harvest for the purpose of putting them back in the ground to start new potato plants. They aren’t seeds at all. But they haven’t been dusted with chemicals like most potatoes in the store which prevents them from forming eyes.

They should look healthy and almost like something you’d like to eat if it weren’t for all the eyes looking back at you. They should not be shriveled up sorry looking things that were thrown in a bucket at the front of the store in hopes that someone who knew nothing about seed potatoes would be attracted by the price and buy them anyway.

Last year, that someone was me. I was never all that interested in planting potatoes. We eat a lot of potatoes but they just don’t cost that much. Why bother? But then we moved out here and with 3000 square feet in my garden, why not throw in a couple of potatoes? Half of them never sprouted. But the ones that did? Oh my were they delicious. And I also found out that you can start harvesting new potatoes as soon as the flowers disappear. And that you can continue harvesting potatoes until they’re gone. You don’t have to wait until the plant dies back in the fall. That’s only necessary if you want to prepare them for storage. And if you lay down enough mulch, theoretically you can store them right there in the ground. I thought, “How cool is that? I can harvest potatoes all year long and not worry about storing a single one!”

So this year we have twice as many. And I started with healthy looking seed potatoes that start arriving in stores a little before Good Friday.

After you’ve collected all your healthy seed potatoes, it is time to cut them. Each cut should be at least two inches and have a couple of eyes.

seed potato with eyes

Those eyes, by the way, form the plant, not the root. Cutting your seed potatoes not only gives you more plants for less money, it actually makes each plant healthier. If you did not cut your seed potates, each of those eyes would try to become a plant, resulting in potatoes with a lot of vegetative growth, but not a lot of actual potatoes.

So cut them. Unless they are small to begin with and only contain a couple of eyes. Those can be planted whole.

After cutting all your potatoes, you need to spread them out and find a cool place to store them for at least two days.

preparing seed potatoes

This allows the cut to scab over and “heal.” A tough surface develops that will make your little cut potato pieces more resistant to soil borne illness, mold and just turning to mush in moist soil after planting.

When they are suitably hardened off, it is time to plant them. Usually, you plant them cut side down a few inches deep with at least a foot between each plant. After the plants come up, you hill another 6 to 8 inches of soil on top of them to keep the potatoes nice and deep and out of the sun. We plant them just beneath the surface and then mulch with 6 inches of straw.

Then, when those first new potatoes are ready, we pull back the straw and enjoy garden fresh potatoes whose skins are so soft and tender they are somewhat prone to washing off right along with the dirt.

And yes, my potatoes are already in the ground. And yes, I know that I’m supposed to wait until Good Friday.

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22 thoughts on “Starting seed potatoes and why we do it on Good Friday

  1. Hey Dana! Great post. I’ve never thought of growing potatoes, always believing it to be way beyond my gardening skill level. This was awesome info.

  2. You should try it some time, Sheri. I never tried it because they take up a bit of room and we can go through a five pound bag of potatoes in a single meal. That’s a lot of garden space devoted to one meal!

    But they really aren’t hard. Half my sorry looking half dead things from last year took off and I was quite pleased with the potatoes they gave us.

  3. I plant potatoes on Good Friday too. I have wondered whether the tradition arose in part because workers would have had a day off that day and a therefore an welcome extra chance to get some gardening done.

  4. I heard that, too, Helen. They used to plant a lot more potatoes than we do now, but I think that was before the industrial revolution.

  5. I’m confused! If you cover it with 6 inches of straw after the plants start coming up, how doo you know when it’s ready — does the plant grow up through the straw? (I’m sorry, I confuse easily and I need lots of pictures.) =p

  6. No problem, Amber! The potato plants push up through the straw. The straw helps provide extra protection from the sun in the summer and the cold in early spring and late fall. But it is also nice because you can pull the straw back and the potatoes are just beneath the surface. You do not have to dig very deep. I didn’t use a shovel or even a trowel last year. I just brushed the soil away and pulled them up by hand.

  7. Yep! As soon as the flowers die, you have new potatoes. They don’t store well, though, so it is really best to only harvest what you’ll use that day or in the next few days. The rest store in the ground fine. You can continue to harvest them all summer and they will continue to grow.

    When the whole plant turns brown and dies back, it is time to harvest the rest. You leave them out . . . I’d have to check how long . . . and the skins harden and then you can store them (at least if you have a variety meant for storage. Some don’t store well, others can be stored until spring).

    We’re a long way from growing enough potatoes to worry about storage, but for now I’m pretty happy with the thought of not buying potatoes all summer!

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  10. So timely; I have some potatoes that are good for nothing but seed (and they’re organic!!). I haven’t been able to grow a real garden in six years and I’m excited to get back into it this year (although I went rather overboard starting tomatoes and am now providing plants to most of my friends!). Have never grown potatoes myself though we did when I was a kid.

  11. Our ground is still frozen! 🙁

    And, our apple trees have shipped… So, I am not sure what we are going to do to help them stay alive for a few more weeks.

    And, we have a straight run of baby Buff Orpingtons coming on April 8. We haven’t moved to the farm yet because it doesn’t have a kitchen anymore. So, the chickens will be 15 miles away.

    I am starting to stress and chant, “One day at a time… one day at a time….”

  12. The Good Friday planting time has to do with those that plant by the moon. I have done it both ways for over 50 years, and have never found any appreciable difference, so I plant when I am ready, not the moon. My mother insisted, when we started our first garden, that the eyes had to be up.. So I planted half with eyes up and half with eyes down. There was no difference. We wouldn’t have potatoes if they didn’t know how to get their leaves up in the air. Potato planters plant the seed both ways. The difference between a good crop and a poor one has to do with a good rain at the right time in June. I brought some Irish seed potatoes home in my dirty underwear in early 2000. The first year they were confused and blossomed in September, and after that it was June. Our potatoes are just as good as the Irish kind. They don’t own skis in Ireland because it doesn’t snow. Their climate seems to be just what potatoes like, and they are unequaled experts in presenting some of the best potato dishes I have ever eaten. The fresh potato, right out of your own garden, remains the most incomparable taste yet. It is one of those taste treats no grocer or vendor can equal! And Walter at Burlington Garden Center has so many varieties, it would take several years to try them all.

  13. We grow our own organic potatoes every year and love the healthy eating we get from them. Store bought potatoes can not compare with them, it is well worth the extra work. I raise several varieties each year but we enjoy the “Yukon Gold” the best.
    They are very good keepers and we still have a good supply left over from last year although some are starting to sprout a little. We simply knock off the sprouts and enjoy the spuds. Usually we can keep enough until about the end of April. I buy new seed potatoes from the Burlington Garden Center each year. Looking forward to planting some soon, but need warmer weather first.

  14. We are doing this today at St Sherlock’s Community Education Initiative. We put a link on our Facebook page and blog to your brilliant post explaining why we do this. I hope that’s ok. I can take it down if it’s not. Keep up the good work.

  15. The tradition of planting on Good Friday has nothing to do with Easter or the Bible or days off. It’s because good Friday falls on a full moon, that’s why Easter moves and is not on a fixed date. A full moon is the best time to plant potatoes. The gravitational pull of the moon on the earth causes the water in the soil to rise, bringing nutrients closer to the surface which give the potatoes a really good start. Moon gardening is an ancient but effective tradition. Prize vegetables have been grown this way. So planting on Good Friday has everything to do with what’s best for the potato.

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