Potato growing – back to basics

There are lots of different potato varieties, usually described as early, second early, maincrop and Christmas potatoes.  The names indicate when they crop and also give you an idea of the space you’ll need and when they can be planted.

2016 will be my third year growing potatoes and it’s taken me this long to work out the difference between the varieties and the impact your choice will have on the end crop. That’s why I’ve put together a quick reference guide to help you through the process:

Type of potato Size When to plant Chitting required? Growth time
First earlies Small, new potatoes End Feb – early May Yes 10-12 weeks
Second earlies Small, new potatoes March – late May Yes 14-16 weeks
Maincrop Larger potatoes, ideal for roasting and baking March – mid-May Yes 20-24 weeks
Christmas / second crop Small, new potatoes (smaller crop due to cooler conditions) August No 11-14 weeks

What to grow

If you’re short of space it is best to concentrate on the earlier types.  It’s also worth remembering that earlies are less likely to encounter pest problems as they’re lifted so much earlier in the year.

potatoes

What to do

How to chit

  • Chitting simply means encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting.
  • Start chitting from February – about six weeks before you intend to plant out the potatoes. I put my ‘Nicola’ second earlies in the windowsill this weekend so they will be ready for a March planting.
  • Each seed potato has a more rounded, blunt end that has a number of ‘eyes’.
  • Stand the tubers with the blunt end uppermost in trays or old egg boxes, with plenty of natural light.
  • The potatoes are ready to be planted out when the shoots are 1.5-2.5cm (0.5-1in) long.

How to plant

  • Plant your chitted potatoes when the soil has started to warm up, usually from mid-March or early April. Start by digging a trench 7.5-13cm (3-5in) deep, although the exact depth should vary according to the variety of potato you’re planting.
  • Add a light sprinkling of well balanced fertiliser, such as blood fish and bone, to your trench before you begin planting.
  • Plant early potatoes about 30cm (12in) apart with 40-50cm (16-20in) between the rows, and second earlies and maincrops about 38cm (15in) apart with 75cm (30in) between the rows.
  • Handle your chitted tubers with care, gently setting them into the trench with the shoots pointing upwards, being careful not to break the shoots. Cover the potatoes lightly with soil.
  • As soon as the shoots appear, earth up each plant by covering it with a ridge of soil so that the shoots are just buried.
  • You need to do this at regular intervals and by the end of the season each plant will have a small mound around it about 15cm (6in) high.

Harvesting

  • Your home-grown potatoes should be ready for lifting from June until September, depending on the varieties and the growing conditions. Earlies can be lifted and eaten as soon as they’re ready.
  • This will be when above-ground growth is still green, and usually as soon as the flowers open.
  • Second and maincrop varieties can be kept in the ground much longer, until September, even though above-ground growth may well be looking past its best.
  • Two weeks before you lift the crop, cut the growth off at ground level. This should give the skins of the potatoes sufficient time to toughen up, making them far less prone to damage from lifting and easier to store.

For more information about planting, visit this very comprehensive website – How to grow potatoes

potatoes 2

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