How to grow potatoes
If you’re looking to grow potatoes, there are three classes to choose from:
- First earlies: This is the very first potato of the year, at times maturing in as little as seven weeks from planting under favourable conditions, but usually taking around 10 weeks. Plant these out in late March about 30cm apart with 40-50cm between rows.
- Second earlies: These potatoes will be ready to plant out in early April. Keep them about 38cm apart with 75cm between rows. They will take about 16-17 weeks to mature from planting so will be ready to harvest from very late June right through to early August.
- Main crops: These take up the most space in the garden, but they tend to be the best varieties to grow if you want some for storage. Plant out in late April, and they take around 18-20 weeks to mature, so they can be lifted from July through to October.
Before planting your seed potatoes out you will need to ‘chit’ them first. The recommended location for chitting is in a cool dry place that is frost free and out of direct sunlight. Place your potato tubers (see our jargon buster) in egg trays or shallow boxes, rose end pointing upwards to encourage sturdy shoots.
At times there can be many shoots on the one potato. This is fine; just take most of them off ensuring you leave the healthiest shoot. Throw away any potatoes that do not sprout at all. Wrinkling can be expected on the potato as it will lose some moisture in the chitting process.
Once the sprouts are about 2.5cm long they are ready to plant out. Dig a trench 7.5-13cm deep and then add a sprinkling of fertiliser before planting. Handle the chitted tubers with care and gently lay them into the trench with the shoots pointing upwards. Cover lightly with soil and water regularly in dry periods. The shoots will grow towards the surface and once these are 10cm or so high you should ‘earth up’ (see our jargon buster). This process should be continued throughout the growing period.There are various different times to plant your potatoes, depending on the type you wish to plant.
When to plant:
First earlies – late March
Second earlies – early April
Main crops – late April
Some of the very early varieties become ready to harvest once the plants come into flower or soon after so this is the time to start checking your tubers regularly. Scrape away the surface to have a look at the tubers to see their size. Harvest when they have a good size for eating; however, the longer the tubers are left in the soil the more prone they become to slug damage.
Harvest main crop potatoes a few weeks after the plants have fully died back. This will toughen their skins so they will store better. Let the tubers dry out in the sun for two or three hours before storing them in hessian sacks or bags.
Potato jargon buster
Here is a list of commonly used words and phrases in growing potatoes.
- Tuber: the part of the potato plant we eat is called a tuber. It’s the swollen, fleshy, usually underground stem of the potato, bearing buds from which the new plant shoots will arise.
- Rose end: the widest end of the seed potato where most of the eyes are situated.
- Chit: the process of starting off potatoes indoors and allowing them to sprout shoots before they are planted.
- Earth up: your crop will become inedible if exposed to sunlight so to prevent this draw soil up and around the stems of the plants as they grow to form a protective mound and to prevent light reaching the tubers and turning them green. It also helps to increase yields and remove competing weeds.
Great space-saving ideas
- Potato patio planters: generally hold between three to five seed potatoes. They are made from tough, woven polyethylene and can be easily moved around using the handles on either side. These are also reusable so can be stored for use in the next season.
- Potato Barrels: frost-proof polypropylene potato barrels can hold up to five seed potatoes. Some barrels have lift-up sides or panels to allow harvesting if only a few potatoes are required.
First early varieties to try
- Features: high yields and distinctive flavour
- Good for: Boiling, mashing, salads
- Features: suitable for growing in all soils
- Good for: boiling, salads
Duke of York
- Features:tasty, old fashioned flavour from yellow flesh
- Good for:roasting
Second early varieties to try
- Features:oval shape, hint of chestnut flavour
- Good for:boiling, roasting, salads
- Features:high-yielding variety, excellent flavour
- Good for:baking, boiling, chipping
- Features:a very old variety with beautiful blue/purple skin
- Good for:mashing, chipping, steaming
Main crop varieties to try
- Features:fine-flavoured old favourite
- Good for:roasting, mashing, baking
- Features:popular red variety, light yellow flesh
- Good for:roasting, mashing, baking, chipping, boiling
Pink fir apple
- Features:unusual nutty flavour from finger like tubers
- Good for:boiling, salads
First specialty varieties to try
- Features:distinctive nutty taste
- Good for:salads, sautéing, roasting
- Features:light cream flesh and superb taste
- Good for:salads
- Features:famous for their buttery flavour
- Good for:salads, boiling
- Get the aged look for new pots quickly with a light coat of live yoghurt.