Seed Potatoes are the key!
Seed Potatoes have arrived in our garden centre this January.
They are the first thing to kickstart our thinking towards the new season of growing, a timely reminder during a usually barren month to get preparing for Spring. It is time to be looking to get prepared for planting your seed potatoes.
Building raised beds, improving the soil in existing beds with manure or compost, adding nutrients, and improving the drainage of borders will all help when planting time comes around.
Choosing Your Type of Seed Potatoes:
There are two main types of potato. Earlies and Maincrops.
The difference between the two is the time taken to reach the stage of harvesting.
The early varieties go into the ground first and will be ready to be lifted around June/July. Maincrop varieties will be planted around mid to late April and be ready for harvesting in August for immediate use, although potatoes being grown for storage over the following winter should be lifted from September to October.
If you have room enough to grow varieties of both types, you will be able to have potatoes throughout the summer and through to the next year if stored.
If space is limited, choose Early varieties for growing. Although they may not produce as large a yield as Maincrop potatoes, the fact that they can be harvested at a time when potato prices are higher, as well as taking up less space and missing the period most susceptible to blight means that they are the ideal choice.
Chitting Your Potatoes
If you have bought your Seed Potatoes nice and early, ‘chitting’ them is a way of giving them a great start. A few weeks before planting, usually around mid to late February, place your seed potatoes on an egg tray or a wooden tray. Then move them into a light (but not sunny) room, safe from frost. After 5 to 6 weeks they will have developed several shoots (chits) meaning that they have a good head start for when they are planted into the ground. For Early varieties especially, this is a vital process. The great thing about growing potatoes is that they will succeed in almost any type of soil. Having said this, there is no harm in trying to provide them with the best growing media possible, for the best possible results come harvest time.
Planting Your Seed Potatoes
When you are ready to plant your Seed Potatoes, dig a 10cm deep, V-shaped trench. Make sure that there is room to pile earth back on to the exposed tubers. The covering of the potatoes whilst in the ground is vital.
Guide to planting times:
Plant First Earlies and Salad Crops from March-April
Plant Second Earlies and Maincrops from April-May
For those of us in the north, it is usually best to wait a little later than March, until early April to plant First Earlies due to the colder weather.
Plant First Earlies, Second Earlies, and Salads are 30cm apart with 45cm between your rows.
Plant Maincrops between 35-40cm apart with 65cm between rows.
Firstly, in the early stages if there is a chance of frost or snow when chutes have begun to poke through the surface, draw some soil over them. The main bit of ‘maintenance’ to perform on your potatoes is known as ‘earthing up’. Green stems and leaves will grow up out of the ground from your potatoes and ‘earthing up’ is the process of drawing up a mound of soil along either side of these stems or ‘haulms’. It should be done when the haulms are around 9 inches in height. Use a hoe, and break up and loosen the soil between each row of potatoes, removing any weeds. Then draw the soil inwards towards each haulm creating a flat-topped ridge around 6 inches in height. Some people do this gradually over the season as the plants grow further, some just once. Either method is sufficient.
Earthing up not only helps to prevent weeds around your potatoes, but it also aids drainage. The biggest advantage though is that any sunlight exposure to the actual tubers themselves will turn them green thus making them poisonous. Be sure to water the potatoes liberally during any dry spells, especially once the tubers have started to form.
Harvesting Your Potatoes
Earlies – Wait until flowers have opened before examining the tubers. Do this by removing soil from a small part of the ridge. They are ready for harvesting as new potatoes when they are the size of hen’s eggs. Insert a flat-tined fork into the ridge well away from the haulm and lift the roots forward into the trench.
Maincrops – If you are storing your Maincrops, cut off the haulms once the foliage has turned brown and the stems have withered. Wait for 10 days before lifting the roots. Dry the tubers by laying them on the soil for a few hours after you have dug them up, then store them in a cool, frost-free, airy place away from direct sunlight. Sheds can be fine, but don’t leave them directly on the floor as they may get damp. Hessian and paper sacks are good for this but steer away from using plastic as this may cause them to sweat. Be sure to remove all tubers, however small, to avoid any problems the following season.
Potatoes Grown In The Container
Container growing is an easy method. Plant your seed potatoes about 10cm from the base of your container (multi-purpose compost will be fine for this, add well-rotted manure if you are feeling lavish), then add about the same amount of soil above them. As the plant grows, keep adding compost until you reach the top of your container then allow the plant to grow normally. As a rough guide, it is recommended that 2 seed potatoes be planted in a container of 40cm depth and 40cm diameter, so use this as a basis for how many you will plant.