|Choose and prepare
Potatoes grow in most types of soil but like any plant prefers a
good quality, well drained loam.
Any plant where the edible part is in the roots prefers loose (not
hard or lumpy) soil. If the soil is hard the potatoes may have difficulty
growing and forming through it.
Ideally the soil should be deep, well dug and with plenty of well-rotted
organic matter mixed through it. The organic matter could be farmyard
or chicken manure or if not available spent mushroom compost.
There are 2 ways to break the soil down. The first way requires
you to turn the soil over and break it up with a fork and spade
- hard work. The easier way is dig the plot over over in late autumn/early
winter so that the frost can break down the soil - the frost will
actually do a better job than you could. Either way will make for
easy planting in the spring.
Potatoes can be prone to pests and diseases. It is important not
to grow potatoes in the same part of the garden every year or any
pest/disease left over from last year will attack this year's crop.
Ideally, potatoes should only be planted in the same part of the
garden once every 7 years but, given that this is not practical
for the vast majority of gardens we recommend a minimum of 3 or
4 years. Try to develop the longest rotational system you can accommodate
in your garden.
When you get your potatoes home unpack them and lay them out in
trays in a cool, light, well-ventilated and frost-free place, out
of direct sunlight. A shed, garage or even a cool, spare bedroom
Preparation for planting:
To get your potatoes off to a flying start it is often recommended
that you "chit" them before planting. This allows strong
"chits" (sprouts) to develop on the tubers before planting.
Whilst this process isn't strictly necessary for Maincrop varieties,
it is recommended for First Earlies, and to a lesser degree, for
Salad varieties and Second Earlies.
To "chit" seed potatoes, place them in a seed tray (not
quite touching) or individually in the sections of egg boxes.
Make sure the ‘rose' end (where most of the ‘eyes'
are) is uppermost. It is these eyes that will form the "chits".
Place the trays in a cool, light frost-free environment at a temperature
of about 45oF/7oC.
The aim of chitting is to produce plump, dark green or purple
shoots about 1in/2.5cm long. Long, white shoots are a sign of
too much heat and not enough light. If shoots are slow to appear,
about 3 weeks before planting try moving the tubers to a warmer
position for a couple of weeks and then back to the original,
cooler place for the final week.
Planting seed potatoes;
A few days before planting, fork over the soil again, adding some
general purpose fertilizer to the top few inches. (Growmore will
do as it is hard to get proper potato fertilizer nowadays.)
Lay the tubers in rows, either at the bottom of a ‘V' shaped
trench or in individual small holes made with a trowel. Many gardeners
like to have the rows running north-south as this allows the sun's
rays to warm both sides of the of the plant. (see ‘Earthing
Planting times are as follows:
First Earlies can be planted from late February in milder, frost
Second Earlies from early March; Salad varieties from late March.
Maincrop varieties from late March.
Planting distances are as follows:
1st Earlies, 2nd Earlies, Salad varieties: 12in/30cm apart and
4in/10cm deep in rows 18in/45 cm apart.
Maincrop varieties: 15in/40cm apart and 4in/10cm deep in rows
24in/60 cm apart.
As soon as shoots start to appear above the soil, it's time to
start "earthing up" the rows.
This means pulling soil over the shoots from either side of the
row to form a ridge. This protects the plants from late frosts
and prevents the tubers from becoming green and inedible.
Repeat this regularly until the ridges are about 8in/20cm high.
Feeding and watering:
An application of a high potash fertilizer at the rate suggested
on the pack will increase yields. Avoid fertilizers high in nitrogen
as these will delay maturity of the crop.
Potatoes need plenty of moisture, particularly round about flowering
time which is when the tubers start to form. In dry spells it
is recommended that the crop is watered every 10 days or so. An
occasional heavy watering is often best for potatoes. ("Little
and often" doesn't usually get down far enough to swell the
Harvesting and storing:
Harvest times depend on planting dates, the weather and temperature
at planting time and during
the growing season.
However, in general terms:
First Earlies are best harvested in small quantities & eaten
straightaway when fresh in June & July.*
Second Earlies and Salad varieties can also be harvested in small
quantities and eaten when fresh in June and July.*
Alternatively, if the skins are allowed to ‘set' - i.e.
they don't rub off when lifted - cut the foliage down to stop
continued growth, lift in September and store as per Maincrop
Maincrop varieties can be lifted from September onwards.*
To store potatoes lift and dry the tubers carefully then store
in a hessian sack in a cool, dark, frost-free area.
*(If in doubt dig up a plant
and test to see if the potatoes are ready.)