How To Grow - Potatoes

Potatoes can be a rewarding crop to grow. Varieties divide into early, second early and main-crop potatoes, and if you’re short of space you can grow them in potato bags or containers. Don’t miss the great taste of home grown spuds!

When and where

Plant first early potatoes towards the end of February – once icy conditions and cold winter water have abated. Allow the potatoes to chit (or sprout) indoors before planting out. Second earlies should be planted in March, at the same time as the first weeds appear. Main crop varieties are planted from late March onwards.

A sunny vegetable plot is best for potatoes; avoid frost pockets or frost prone sites. If there is a frost, use a fleece frost cover to protect your plants at night. The soil should be slightly acidic.

How to plant

Allow seed potatoes to sprout indoors before you plant them out. This process is called ‘chitting’, and it should begin around six weeks before you plant out. To do this simply rub off the unwanted shoots just leaving three or four shoots on one end of the potato. If the potatoes arrive without shoots they need to be left in a dry and dark place for 2 – 3 weeks; by that time shoots should have appeared. Stand the seed potatoes with the eyes facing upwards – using an old egg box or other suitable tray to hold the potatoes in place – and place these in a location with plentiful natural light. When the shoots reach around 1.5 to 2.5 cm long, it is time to plant out.

To plant out in a potato patch, dig a trench roughly 10 cm deep, depending on which variety of potato you’re planting; fertilise the trench lightly either with potato fertiliser or well-rotted manure. Spacing between potatoes should be roughly 30 cm between tubers and 40-50 cm between rows for earlies, and 39 cm between potatoes and 75 cm between rows for second earlies and main crops. Place the tubers in the trench with the shoots pointing upwards, being extra careful not to damage or break the shoots. Lightly cover the potatoes with soil. Then, when the shoots grow up and appear in the ground, cover these with a slight mound or ridge of soil. Keep doing this, so that each plant has a mound around it about 15 cm high – the process of ‘earthing up’.

Harvesting

For earlies, harvesting can take place when the flowers open and the plant above ground is still green – around 90 days after planting. Uproot with a potato fork to minimize damage to the crop as you lift out a plant with all of its potatoes intact. Second earlies take around 115 days to mature, and maincrops around 135 to 160 days to crop. If you find your potatoes prone to damage during the harvest, if you cut the above-ground growth off up to two weeks before you lift the plants this will toughen up the skins, making the potatoes more robust and also easier to store. To avoid pests, go for earlies as these are in the ground for less time; for potatoes to store, go for main crops.

Through the year

Early potatoes are ideally grown in pots or in a well drained container. To make it easy you can use a potato planting kit, usually a tub for planting out 5 or 6 seed potatoes; use a container which is over 30 cm deep and wide, and use soil based compost or soil from the garden. Place the seed potatoes half way down and cover with compost. Put the container in a warm, light locale, and with an early harvest you will have time for a second crop.

Handy tips

Always make sure that your potatoes are watered, particularly if rainfall is erratic or sparse. If you’re only just creating your vegetable patch, potatoes, with their vigorous foliage, will help crowd out weeds or remaining grassland.


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