11:00 - 11 February 2011
Potatoes are one of the easiest garden vegetables to grow. For the very best results grow them in a vegetable patch in the garden soil. They do need plenty of space to achieve their full potential but you can also harvest a small to medium crop per plant by growing them in potato planters if you don’t have a garden. You can also grow potatoes in planters in a greenhouse for an earlier crop. Some gardeners save a few seed potatoes and plant them in June in planters in the greenhouse for a later crop providing a few servings of new potatoes for their Christmas dinner. Look out for special varieties that respond well to late planting and this technique.
To grow potatoes you need to start with seed potatoes. Confusingly these are not seeds at all, but specially prepared tubers that are in fact potatoes. Don’t be tempted to try to grow potatoes from the leftover spuds from the supermarket; there are several serious potato diseases that can be transferred to your garden if you take this route. It is better to buy virus free seed potatoes early in the season, in January and February, check out what’s on offer at the garden centre as you can usually buy them loose and you will save a fortune on postage.
How many to buy
If you just want to try growing a planter or two for the first time then buy three potatoes for each planter as a guide. If you have more space then bear in mind that potato plants need to be between 12 and 18 inches apart and you need to leave at least 18-24inches between rows, so work out what you’ve got room for and buy a variety so you can compare results. Look for disease resistant strains to keep pest and disease management to a limit.
What to buy
Unless you are going to grow enough potatoes to feed your family all year then the best types to grow are called first earlies. This is because they are the first to be planted and are the earliest to crop. These are not really Maincrop potatoes but if you grow several plants you can leave them in the soil longer to mature. Early potatoes crop when potatoes are the most expensive in the shops, so the idea is that you grow something that will save you some money and that tastes good. There are dozens of different varieties but read the information boards and choose something that takes your fancy. The other good things abut first earlies are that they tend to make smaller, more compact plants so you can get more into a small space and that they usually crop before potato blight becomes a problem. Look out for varieties that are resistant to blight to give you better results; as if your plants do succumb there is little that can be done to save them.
Preparing your spuds
You can’t risk your potatoes being damaged by frost and snow so they can’t be planted out too early. That’s OK because you can stat them into growth on a frost-free windowsill or in a frost-free greenhouse. Unpack them, lay them out on newspaper or in trays and allow them to sprout, this is called chitting.
First early potatoes can be planted from around March depending on the weather conditions. Dig over the soil first and plant them about 6 inches deep and about 14 inches apart for the best results. As the shoots start to show above ground cover them over with soil to protect them from the frost and keep building the soil up around your plants.