Potatoes are a staple of allotment plots up and down the country. But how do you maximise your harvest and grow the best spuds?
The first place to start is with the different types of seed potatoes available.
This can seem confusing at first, but once you understand it, then it’s quite straightforward.
As the name suggests, these are the first potatoes you plant and also the first potatoes you harvest.
Early potatoes are smaller than main crop potatoes and are what you would call a new potato.
First earlies are usually planted in march for harvesting in June/July.
Second earlies go into the ground next and are ready next.
Charlotte is one of the most common second earlies and is one I regularly grow.
Second earlies are planted in April and harvested in July/August.
These are your big, main harvest of potatoes. They are in the ground longer than early types.
Maincrop potatoes are usually planted in late April or early May and harvested in September.
After choosing what potato to grow, chitting them is your next step.
This is simply the process of getting your seed potatoes to sprout before planting them.
Put them in a sunny spot on a tray or something similar. Lots of people use old egg cartons for this. Once your potatoes have lots of sprouts on them, they are ready to be planted.
Traditionally potatoes are planted in trenches around 10-15cm deep.
I don’t dig large trenches; instead, I dig a single hole for each potato and then pop it in.
I try to keep my rows around 30cm apart and then each potato in the row 40-50cm apart.
Potatoes are heavy feeders so need high-quality soil. if yours isn’t great then you can add some compost to your planting hole or even food scraps.
As your potatoes grow you need to earth or mound them up.
As soon as the shoots reach roughly 20cm tall you want to rake up soil over the top of them to cover the potatoes in a mound.
This stops the developing tubers from direct sunlight. If the tubers get direct sunlight on them they will turn green and become inedible.
Leave the tops of the plant sticking out as you can see in the photo above.
Caring For Potatoes
Potatoes require little ongoing care, just keep them earthed up and as weed free as possible.
What you do need to keep on top of though is watering during dry spells.
If the soil is dry as the potato tubers form then potato scab can become a real problem. This is actually a fungal disease but gets a lot worse with dry soil conditions.
When you harvest potatoes depends on whether they are first earlies, earlies or main crop potatoes.
With early and first early potatoes you actually dig them up when the plant is still growing.
Maincrop potatoes are harvested once the leaves on the plants have turned yellow and died back.
With first earlies, you want to harvest them in June and July, try rooting around in the soil without disturbing the plant to get a feel for how large the potatoes are.
If they are a good size, think a new potato, then you can dig the plant up with a fork and harvest the potatoes. The same goes for earlies but they will be ready a month later.
Potato blight is the main problem you will encounter when growing potatoes, and there isn’t much you can do about it.
This is a fungal problem that spreads across the country in waves, some years are worse than others.
Typically the earlier you grow your potatoes the less chance there will be of them catching blight as it tends to be a later season problem.
There are also blight-resistant potatoes you can grow.
If you notice blight on your potatoes, then the best thing is to cut down the foliage and dispose of it, not in the compost. If you act early enough then the tubers will still be okay, but likely small.
Growing Potatoes In Containers
You can grow potatoes in regular old pots as long as they are large enough.
This means you can grow potatoes in backyards, balconies and more.
As long as the space gets some sun, you can grow potatoes in it!
Grow bucket fulls of spuds in, err… buckets.
In the photo above, a flexible bucket is used, but you can also use the rigid type.
This can actually be a cheaper way of growing potatoes rather than pots.
Some buckets can be bought from your big stores for as little as 99p, which is cheaper than an equivalent plant pot.
Bags are another great choice and have a benefit over tubs in that they can be folded away when not in use.
I grow potatoes in canvas bags on my allotment. I scatter them around my pathways to save space.
- Grow bags are made of thickened and breathable non-woven fabric, environment friendly and BPA-free.
- The plant bags help prevent root circling and rotting, naturally air pruning "burns" off the exposed roots to promote the plant's healthy growth.
- The sturdy handles with X shape sewing on both sides of the grow bag make lifting and moving more convenient and easier without any worry of the handle being ripped off.
You can also grow potatoes in bins. In the above photo, they are growing in a compost bin, but regular bins work well too.
Your average black bin is commonly used to grow spuds, but they take a little filling.
This is why I prefer bags or pots, as you are not wasting soil that the plants are going to need.
These potato towers look like a really great idea.
I have not tried them yet, but I plan to build one this year using pallet wood, so watch this space.
The idea behind them is to build a square or rectangular box out of wood.
You can then remove some of the slats from the bottom when it is harvest time.
This allows you easy access to gather up those spuds!
Planting Potatoes In Pots
So now you have a good idea of what you can plant potatoes in, you will want to know how to plant them.
As it turns out there is actually a bit of a trick to planting potatoes in containers.
To start with, you want to fill your chosen container between a third full with compost.
Then place your seed potatoes at this level.
Now you want to add a little more compost, so your potatoes are covered. Maybe go five to 10 centimetres above the spuds.