The humble spud is on my mind this week
Potatoes are often lumped together in gardening books as a root vegetable but in fact it is a stem tuber. It belongs in the same family as the tomato and some clever people take delight in grafting a tomato plant top onto a potato for fun.
We divide potatoes into three groups. Early varieties that are harvested in June or July with second earlies following closely, and then “lates” which are better for storing to provide food through the winter.
If you find yourself short of garden space then plump for growing the early varieties. They are around for a shorter time, and are harvested while prices are high and best of all, you can’t beat the flavour of freshly dug small new potatoes from your own garden cooked with a sprig of mint.
You can grow a few in a tub or use a special “Potato Planter” if space is limited. With the latter looking like a small compost bin, when ready for harvesting, you can simply slide the pot apart to reveal your crop waiting to be picked. Any small ones can be left a little longer. Slugs are less of a problem in one of these. Keep frost off the foliage at all times. A space in a little-used greenhouse is ideal to bring a few plants on so you can proudly be the first in your road to harvest.
There are a myriad of varieties to choose from. They all seem to perform differently on varying soils. You cannot do better than ask around locally to find out the best performers on your sort of ground. For a complete list of the different varieties, we offer have a look at our Seed potato list or pick up a leaflet.
Buy only ‘certified seed’ which means it will be free of any growth restricting viruses. Mostly this seed crop is grown in Scotland away from aphids which are known to spread these viruses. Look out for the Safe Haven logo, that way you know you are buying seed potatoes of a premium quality from Scottish farms. Just like humans, plants do not perform well if they have a virus infection. Seed potato crops are regularly inspected through their growing season and are certified free from viruses so that you know you are buying seed potatoes with the potential to do well.
It is best to let the potatoes shoot in a tray before planting them. This is called “chitting”. Once on the go they will be quick to restart should the weather be cold after planting. An unchitted potato, will sit in the soil until really warm weather kicks it into action. You should allow about 4 to 6 weeks for the chitting process. Shoots should not be so long that they are knocked off when planted. Keep them somewhere cool and light.
Ideally, on planting in the veggie patch, you should open a trench and put some Oaktree Farmyard manure underneath on which you can space your potatoes about 30cm apart. With moisture retaining compost underneath, your crop will outperform those without, giving you greater satisfaction at harvest time.
In theory, each potato should be about the size of a hen’s egg and have two shoots on it with any additional ones being rubbed off. This will give the best balance of food storage available to each shoot and the number of potatoes you will harvest. Thus more shoots left on will result in more, smaller spuds.
Don’t forget to add your favourite fertiliser. Growmore or Fish Blood and Bone would be fine.
Protect any foliage from frost. Have a length of fleece to hand just in case frost arrives unexpectedly. Sacking or anything insulative will help in an emergency. Polythene is not really the best of things to use. Plants can sweat underneath as soon as the sun comes out and this can help spread disease.
There should be a crop under plants that have flowered which could be some 14 to 15 weeks after planting. Hopefully, they will be the size of chicken’s eggs. An extra watering in dry weather is always a good idea and the Oaktree compost will have helped provide a good crop.
Don’t forget to have a sprig of mint somewhere in the garden to pick and add to the pot as you cook your freshly harvested crop, nor should you forget to take time in savouring the moment of satisfaction gained from growing your own food!
Our staff are always happy to assist you with any questions and queries that you may have about growing potato seeds. Just pop into the Nursery and visit any of our Advice Centres.