In an average sized garden like ours growing potatoes is more about flavour and texture than saving cents. From the waxy joys of ‘Pink fir apple’ to the all-round floury brilliance of ‘Agra’ spuds are definitely worth giving a go. There is a connoisseur-worthy range of varieties awaiting your taste buds -all you need to do is get a few seed potatoes ready and then you’ll be away.
Potatoes are brilliant for breaking new ground in a new garden or garden area. Their roots help to break up soil and their dense canopy of foliage suppresses many weeds. You even get a by-product of a bucket or two of potatoes thrown into the bargain!
Companions Sweet corn, cabbage, bean, marigold.
Quantity 3 plants per person.
We all ate this when we were students in Scotland and its now a family favourite – tattie bacon and onions is fast tasty comfort food on a budget
Jersey Benne (Earlies) reliable heirloom variety that grows well on most soils. Tasty oval tubers with white flesh.
Ilam Hardy (Earliers) can be planted as an early and a maincrop. Tolerates varied conditions and soils – good cropper.
Pink Fir Apple (Main Crop) heritage variety with slender, elongated, knobbly tubers. Has pink-tinged skin and waxy yellow flesh that stays firm after cooking.
Agria (Main Crop) a favourite heirloom variety that crops early and produces good yields of small to large tubers. Yellow flesh has great flavour and texture when cooked.
Urenika (Main Crop) heritage variety with elongated dark purple tubers. Flesh is paler but still amazingly colourful. When harvested and cooked small their flesh is waxy – becoming floury when they get larger.
In warmer areas potatoes can be planted from June onwards through to March.
In cooler areas you should wait until general risk of frosts has passed before planting potatoes – usually sometime around late October and running through to February. If you are really in tune with your weather patterns then in cooler areas you can plant early varieties several weeks before frosts normally finish as the soil should insulate them before frost-tender foliage appears.
A warm and sheltered sunny part of your garden.
Potatoes require a reasonably nutritious soil and one that retains some moisture. Soil should therefore be a mix of smaller soil particles and larger organic material. They are traditionally planted in long rows in garden beds but they can also be grown in a stack of old tyres, untreated wooden boxes, pots and even in plastic bin bags (see end of text).
Seed potatoes are specially grown for us gardeners to plant – you can get them from Koanga who stock all the exciting and nutritious Heritage varieties or your local garden centre.
Chitting: Before your seed potatoes are ready to go into the ground, it helps greatly if they are first ‘chitted’. Chitting is a process where seed potatoes are placed with the part that has the most ‘eyes’ (dormant buds) facing upwards in a warm and sunny spot – such as a windowsill. I sit mine in egg cartons. This stimulates shoots to grow which means a faster start to the growing period once the chitted seed potatoes are ready to go into the soil. Usually chitting is complete once you have at least three or four shoots about a half finger tall – this is the ideal size for planting.
Potatoes are grown in two harvest groups. ‘Earlies’ are planted as early as June in warm areas and not until late spring in cooler areas. ‘Earlies’ are harvested from spring till around Christmas time – depending on local weather trends.
‘Maincrop’ potatoes are planted from November through to March depending on local weather trends and produce potatoes from early autumn into winter.
If you are planting into a bed then dig out as many trenches as you want – these should be about a hand’s length deep and a distance of a relaxed stride apart. Pile the excavated soil along one side of each trench. I scatter a layer of sheep pellets, comfrey leaves, seaweed and pea straw along the bottom of my trenches – the comfrey and seaweed offer an essential boost of potassium which helps get potatoes off to a good start.
The idea is to provide nutrients specifically for the seed potatoes that you plant. These effectively do all the work as they produce the resulting plants and their harvest of delicious tubers. Once I have laid down my larder of goodies along dug out trenches I sprinkle a fingertip deep layer of soil back on top and then leave the excavated soil on the side for ‘earthing up’ once the seed potatoes have started to shoot.
Nestle your seed potatoes along the bottom of your prepared trench about a forearm apart. The sprouted shoots should be pointing upwards. Carefully cover your seed potatoes with more soil, compost you can even use mulch or untreated wood shavings (you want to ensure that no shoots get broken off during this process or you’ll reduce the size of your harvest). This layer should be about a finger’s depth above the seed potatoes.
When shoots and leaves have appeared and are about a full hand’s length in height draw soil up around them so that only a small amount of the top leaves shows above ground – this is called ‘earthing up’. Repeat this process again until the plants begin to flower or you run out of space or soil. Water your plants during dry weather – but do so with a hose at the base of the plant rather than spraying over foliage or you may increase the chance of blight spreading through your crop.
If using tyres, bags or containers then just add soil, mulch or untreated wood shavings accordingly to the same level against the leaves. Every time the foliage reaches a hand’s length in height earth them up again until soil/compost/mulch etc. reaches the top of the container
Earthing up: The idea behind earthing up is to keep your potato plant producing spuds along its stem that grows upwards from the seed potato at the bottom. Also, earthing up stops potatoes being exposed to the sun that turns them green and produces the toxin ‘solanine’ in their flesh.
Blight is a serious problem for potato plants and rapidly destroys plants and infects tubers below ground. Fungal spores are carried through the air and are particularly prevalent during warm and humid weather. If you notice brown freckle-like patches appearing on leaves with a whitish or yellow halo around them then your plants have blight. The only remedy is to remove foliage immediately without composting – as this will infect your compost with spores. Hopefully tubers below ground will be unaffected and can sit in the soil for a couple more weeks to develop thicker skins before harvest. Tubers should still be perfectly edible as long as they show no visible signs of decay. Avoid planting potatoes or tomatoes in the affected area for a couple of years.
Planting Potatoes in containers: If you are planting in containers this can make it easier to utilize the sunnier parts of your garden.
Planting into car tyres, pots or plastic bin liners is relatively easy and can be fun for kids:
Open up bin bag and roll down rim until it is about a hand’s depth from the base of bag. Sit bin bag on a few bricks or pieces of wood so that the bottom of the bag has a bit of airflow underneath it. Make about 10 or 12 small holes for drainage in the bottom of the bag.
Put a hand-deep layer of compost - that has been enriched with a spade full of rotted manure, sheep pellets, seaweed and wilted comfrey leaves – in the bottom of your bag. Mix this up in a wheelbarrow first so you don’t damage your bag.
Place one to three seed potatoes on the layer of soil and compost and cover with additional soil or compost to about a finger’s depth above the seed potatoes.
When shoots show, allow them to get to about a hand’s length and then unroll the side of the bag so you can add soil, mulch or straw. Add enough to reach to the top of the leaves on the shoots – there should be a few leaves showing above the soil/straw or mulch. Maintain good watering throughout to nourish developing tubers.
Repeat this process 3 or 4 times until flowers appear and plants then wilt.
If using pots then add soil and sprouted potatoes as above. Keep adding more compost as shoots appear.
You can also repeat the above in car tyres by starting with one tyre on the ground and a potato sitting on a hand deep layer of compost inside the tyre. Mound some soil over the potato and wait for shoots to appear. Earth up or add straw as mentioned above and stack additional car tyres to hold soil until the end of the growing cycle is completed. Bon apetit!
Earlies - If you are impatient then once you see the first flowers on your plants you can carefully paw at the soil alongside your plants to see if there are a few fresh young tubers ready for ‘robbing’. Otherwise wait until plants are fully in flower.
Maincrop – Wait about a couple of weeks after the flowering stems of your plants have wilted – this allows tubers to swell to their most useful size. If you have planted heaps and your harvest is huge then you can store Maincrop potatoes in sacks or in shallow wooden fruit boxes in a cool dark place. Make sure that any potatoes you want to store are damage and disease-free.