Grow Your Own … Potato
The potato is one of the most widely eaten vegetables in Britain but gardeners will agree that there is nothing like the produce you have grown yourself. It always has that extra special taste as you are in control. This means that you can grow using organic chemical free methods if you wish. It is also a way of getting children interested in the food that they eat too.
Some people think they have to have an allotment of large vegetable patch to grow potatoes. You can grow it this way if you like but you can do it in a Potato Planters or even buckets.
It is always best to grow potatoes using quality “Seed Potatoes” rather than potatoes direct from the supermarket. This is because seed potatoes will have been screened for disease and are far more resistant to them.
Once you have purchased your seed potatoes you may wish to “chit” them. This means putting them in a dry container or egg boxes to develop sprouting shoots. However, this is not vital as there is debate as to whether this aids your crop.
Potatoes fall into three categories:
- First Early: Taking as little as 8 weeks from planting to harvesting. It is also possible to leave them to mature by leaving them in the ground longer. They are traditionally planted from late February onwards.
- Second Early & Salad: Taking around 12 weeks. Although as for First Early potatoes they can be left in for longer to mature. They are traditionally planted from mid to late March onwards.
- Main Crop: Taking 16 to 18 weeks to grow to full maturity. They are traditionally planted from early April onwards.
Potatoes are best grown in a frost free sunny location. To grow them in an allotment or vegetable garden it is traditional to dig a narrow trench around 4 to 6 inches (10-15cm) deep. This can be lined with compost or grass clippings and a good handful of blood, fish and bone.
Potatoes should be spaced apart at:
First Early: 9 inches (22cm)
Second Early & Salad: 12 inches (30cm)
Main crop: 15 inches (37cm)
Rows should be at least 18 inches (45cm) apart to allow for “earthing-up.”
It is advisable to add slug deterrents to either side of rows in order to protect the young shoots as they grow.
As the shoots are 9 inches (22cm) above the ground you should “earth-up” by drawing soil from the gaps between your rows to protect the shoots to a height of around 8 inches (20cm.) This in important for keeping light away from the tubers as this turns them green and potentially poisonous. You could also mulch with grass clippings to aid water retention. Remember to add additional slug deterrents as you do this.
At fortnightly intervals you should feed your potatoes with a potash high fertiliser such as Phostrogen. This will help to increase your crop.
A second way of growing is to grow potatoes under black polythene. This is a method often used by commercial growers. The potato tubers are planted through the polythene at a depth of 4 inches (10cm) with a hole for the shoots to grow through. The advantage
of this method is that there is no need to earth up your potatoes. However your crops are at greater risk of encountering issues with rotting.
A third method used for growing potatoes is to plant them in deep potato planters or large containers. This is particularly helpful if you have limited space or are growing “Christmas Potatoes.” These are available at the Garden Centre from September onwards and are grown in a greenhouse or sheltered location where they are protected from frost and waterlogging.
Put into the base of the container about an inch (3cm) of pebbles to aid drainage. Line the bottom 15cm (6in) of the container with good draining multi-purpose compost such as Vitax Q4. Place the seed potato tubers on top of this compost and add another 8 inches (20cm) of compost. This is because you will not have room to earth up. If your container is very deep you will be able to add additional levels of potatoes until the container is full. However, be aware the more seed potatoes there are in the container the smaller the eventual size of you harvested potatoes will be. So not a good idea if you want big jacket baking potatoes.
At fortnightly intervals you should feed your potatoes with a potash high fertiliser such as Phostrogen. This will help to increase your crop. Keep your potatoes well-watered but do not waterlog as this will cause rotting.
After the usual growing length or once the haulms (top growth on the potatoes) have yellowed or died off you can begin lifting your potatoes. This is done by digging with a fork to get underneath the hams. Be careful not to spear your potatoes below the surface of the soil. Once out of the ground potatoes should be left in the sun for a few hours to dry off. Then they should be stored in potato sacks in a cool dry place where light is not able to get to them. Prolonged periods of light will cause potatoes to go green and become poisonous.
Year on year it is important to rotate where you grow potatoes in your garden. It is best to have three or more locations and move to a new one each year. This process is known as “crop rotation.”If you are concerned about pests and diseases grow the main crop potato “Setanta” as this is one of the best resistant varieties available. If you are growing in containers just use new compost each year and wash out the container then you can grow in it year after year.
Rocket and Swift are first early varieties that are quick to mature making them ideal for children and beginners to grow.
Charlotte and International kidney are nice second early salad potatoes.
King Edward and Seranta make good baking potatoes.
Whether you have an allotment, a garden vegetable patch or just a couple of pots there is still plenty of scope to grow your own!