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Bill Starr: It’s that time of year

Everywhere you go you see it! Chocolate, candy, stuffed animals, balloons and roses. I urge you to resist. I know it is tempting, but I have some news that should make you think twice about jumping in head over heels. The decisions are tough: should I go with red or maybe white? Maybe I will splurge and get a little bit of both. This time of year only comes around once and with it being a Leap Year you better make it count.
The latest report that I got was that starting the first week of February we are in for some colder than average temperatures.  Feb. 14 might be really cold, if you get the idea. You are going to need some wood for the fireplace, a drink to keep you warm and the love of your life to cuddle up with. You don’t even need to be thinking about planting potatoes this early.
I am often reminded that Feb. 14 is some sort of holiday, but I affectionately I know it as “Tater Time”! That is the date that I usually tell folks they are safe to plant their potatoes. This year might be slightly later if the forecast holds true. Generally gardeners can plant potatoes when the soil temperature reaches 45 degrees F. but potatoes germinate and emerge when the soil temperature gets about 50 degrees F. This is usually around mid- to late February in our area. Potatoes can be planted one of two ways. You can either plant them into a pre-formed bed, (plant in hills) or you can plant them flat and throw dirt on them as they grow. It really depends on the equipment you have and the soil you are working with.
It may be easier to plant potatoes on flat ground and throw dirt toward them, on sandy soils. These soils are easier to work with and easier to dig into as potatoes mature. Whichever method you use it is important to have as much soil around the plants as possible to maximize the number of potatoes you produce. The size of your seed potatoes will also influence your yield. Small seed pieces usually yield lots of very small potatoes and large seed pieces will usually produce very few large potatoes. You need to cut your seed so that each piece of potato has at least two eyes and should weigh 1.5 to 2 ounces. During cutting, discard any potatoes that show dark ring or discoloration inside. Seed should be planted immediately after cutting. Remember to use only certified seed and do not use potatoes from the supermarket.
Potatoes are slow to get out of the ground so they usually don’t get hit by too much cold. Even if they are out of the ground ahead of a frost they will usually recover and do just fine. A severe cold snap could cause a replant situation but I have rarely seen it happen. Another factor now is the waterlogged soils which are not ideal for planting. Crop rotation is a must with potatoes. Do not plant potatoes in the same area of the garden each year. Do not plant behind tomatoes, potatoes, peppers or eggplant. Try to follow beans, squash or corn.
So hold off on the potato purchase or at least the planting for a week or so and spend some time with your special “Tater”! Tell them Happy Valentine with taters. I guarantee the look on their face will be priceless.

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension agent, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Services. Contact him at 229-924-4476 or uge2261@uga.edu