Seed Potato Growing
Seed Potatoes are in store and now is a good time to get started with them. There are many varieties to chose from, and they are classified into three groups -
Early Potatoes - need less space in the garden, mature first and tend to have fewer problems with pests.
Second Earlies - take up to 17 weeks to mature, and are generally ready to dig from late June.
Maincrop - take up to 20 weeks to mature (generally this means July picking). However, these tend to be the best varieties to store.
Late January and February is the best time to 'chit' seed potatoes. This means encouraging them to produce sprouts before they are planted. Stand the seed potatoes in a tray (egg boxes work well), with their 'eyes' (beginnings of sprouts) up. They should be kept in a cool, but not frosted, room, with some natural light. Potatoes are best planted when the shoots are 1.5-2.5cm (0.5-1") long.
Do not plant out until mid March at the earliest, depending on where you are in the Country. The soil should be starting to warm up. Dig a trench 7.5-13cm (3-5") deep, or use a spade to make a hole to put the 'chitted' potato in. Place the potato gently in the hole/trench, with the shoots pointing upwards. Cover with soil. Plants may benefit from a sprinkling of potato fertiliser in the ground before planting.
Plant early potatoes 30cm apart with 50cm between rows. Second early and maincrop should be 40cm apart with 75cm between rows. Earth up the rows by covering with a ridge of soil, so that early shoots are just re-buried. Continue to earth up until your mound is approx 15cm high. This will encourage growth, keep the potatoes frost free and will stop them 'greening' from being exposed to light.
Potatoes will be ready to harvest from June. Earlies can be lifted as soon as they have flowered. Second early and maincrop should be left to harvest once the foliage has died down. They can be left in the ground until September, or dug and stored.
Potatoes like a sunny spot in the garden and will require regular watering, but little other maintenance.
Not have enough space? Why not try growing in potato bags or well drained pots. Any pot that is 1-2ft deep will work. Half fill the pot with multi-purpose compost or good garden soil. Plant between two and five seed potatoes (depending on your pot/bag size). Top up with soil, keep watered and enjoy a tasty crop.
Potatoes are easy to grow and make a satisfying addition to the garden. They grow fast enough to keep the kids interested too, so make it a family affair!
Enjoy the garden.