Everyone loves spuds. They’re one of the Western world’s favourite carbs, a staple food eaten all year round, from big, floury baked potatoes to fresh, tasty baby new ones and everything in between. And they taste even better when you’ve just dug them upo from your own plot. If you have ever wondered how to grow them, here’s our guide to how to grow potatoes, both in the ground and in pots or grow-bags.
How to grow potatoes in the earth
First, prepare your beds. Potatoes like open position in full sunshine, and they prefer fertile, well drained soil. If you – or someone else – has grown spuds in the same patch of ground for more than two years, find a fresh spot. Using the same place increaseds the chance you’ll get one of several nasty potato diseases turning up.
In an ideal word they love slightly acidic soil best, but on the whole they’re pretty unfussy. If the soil is very alkaline, say if you live in a place where the bedrock is chalk or limestone, it’s a good move to add some sulphur to the top of the potato ridge – the ridge you get on top of the soil, under which the seed spuds are planted – after you’ve put them in the ground. This improves your overall yield as well as keeping skin blemishing diseases like Common Scab – awful name! – at bay, which likes alkaline conditions.
Prepare the ground in November-December so the soil can settle before you plant out your seed potatoes. Get rid of weeds and big stones, and add a load of lovely compost plus a fertiliser that contains plenty of potash.
To chit or not to chit
What is chitting? It means letting your seed potatoes go to seed, growing those pale root-like structures you get when you leave your spuds in a cupboard for too long. These long, strong shoots sprout over several weeks and are supposed to encourage faster growth and heavier crops once they in the ground.
Some experts insist on chitting. But a proper split A-B test test on the BBC Radio 4 Gardener’s Question Time radio program revealed that chitting doesn’t make much – if any – difference to the quality of the crop, the quantity or anything else. So chit if you like, otherwise it won’t do any harm not to.
If you decide to chit, simply stash your seed potatoes in seed trays or shallow boxes somewhere cool, light and frost-free. Plant the potato with the white chitted roots pointing downwards into the soil.
Make your seed potatoes go further
You can cut large seed potatoes in half or quarters if they’re really big, then leave them to dry for four days before planting them out.As long as every chunk conatins an ‘eye, each chunk will grow into a potato plant. It’s a great way to save a few pennies, and a good way to make your sed potato stash last longer.
Planting out potatoes the professional way
When to plant potatoes? It depends where you live, what the weathers like and your soil conditions. When the time is right, dig a four inch deep trench and plant your spuds out with the rose end – where the chits grow from – facing upwards. Then back-fill the trench to cover them up and sprinkle on some spud fertiliser if it’s necessary. As you can see, it’s entirely possible to grow them more or less all year round for a constant fresh supply.
- Plant your first early potatoes from the end of February, a foot apart in rows two feet apart, and harvest them 10 weeks later
- Plant your second early potatoes from mid March, 15 inches apart in rows 30″ apart, and harvest them 13 weeks later
- Plant early maincrop potatoes from late March, 18″ apart in rows 30″ apart, and harvest them 15 weeks later
- Plant main crop potatoes from late March 18″ apart in rows 30″ apart, harvesting them 20 weeks later
- Your second cropping goes in early August, planted a foot apart in rows two feet apart, and harvest 11 weeks later
Once the shoots appear above the ground, cover them with more soil to keep any frost off. Rememebr that the first and second early crops need lots of watering in dry weather. Once the plant stems reach 9″ above the soil, repeat the process, adding more sil around the stem to stop any spuds developing near the surface going green.
When to harvest your spuds
Harvesting also depends on the season, the soil and the weather. It also depends on the size of the spiuds you’re after. Harvest early for small potatoes and later for whoppers. You can dig up your first earlies as ‘new potatoes’ as soon as the plants start flowering, usually around 10 weeks from planting.
The main crop is usually best left for a couple of weeks after the leaves and stems have died back, a practice which helps the potato skins set. After harvesting, leave the spuds on the surface of the bed for a few hours to let them dry out and cure the protective skin.
Growing potatoes in bags or containers
If you only have limited space, you can easily grow potatoes in containers. You can even buy special potato bags. Spuds grown in containers are at much less risk of damage by pests. Until recently growing potatoes in bags meant having to earth them up – add extra soil to cover the shoots and stems at various stages mentioned above – as they grow. But recent trials reveal it isn’t necessary, which ios great news if you don’t have much time available.
- Fill an 8 litre potato bag with good quality multipurpose compost to around an inch below the rim
- Poke in a tuber with the shoots pointing upwards, 5″ deep
- Cover the tubers with soil
- Put the bag or container in a light, frostless place
- Feed the potato plants every other week with potato fertiliser
- Water the bags well whenever the compost starts to go dry
How to store potatoes
Store dry spuds in paper or hessian bags somewhere cool, dry and free from frost. My granddad used to store his in a dry garden shed, in rows between sheets of newspaper, and they’d last for months. Never use plastic bags or containers – the spuds will sweat and go mouldy in no time.