Have you ever grown and eaten your own potatoes? Do you just think that there are white ones for chips and red ones for mash, and those little new ones that are really expensive in the shops? That was probably my sum knowledge before I started to grow my own veggies. I used to wonder what the fuss was all about. I’m now a convert. Freshly dug potatoes are special. Their flavour is pitch perfect. And they are as cheap as chips. Pun thoroughly intended. And guess what they are easy to grow, they were one of my first successful crops, and frankly if I managed it then anyone can.
Planting a potato is like planting a promise.
It’s time to sort my potato orders out, get them delivered and get chitting and then onto planting them. Chitting, is yet another gardening term that I had to learn if I was to be able to read an article about growing potatoes AND understand it. Chitting is the process of getting potatoes to start sprouting. So by the time you plant them they have had a head start. Reams have been written on the subject, some people swear by chitting others decry it as a waste of time. Basically you place your seed potatoes in good light and encourage them to sprout. I do it for my early potatoes, and if I have the time and inclination the same is true for the Seconds and Maincrops.
I see more unknown words springing up! What’s this about Seed Potatoes, let alone Seconds and Maincrops? Seed potatoes are literally a potato that you as the gardener is about to plant. 2nds and Maincrops? Those are kinds of potatoes based on when the mature and are ready to harvest, First Earlies are literally that. Read on…
“Earlies take about 13 to 14 weeks to develop before they can be dug, Second earlies take 16 to 17 weeks and Maincrops about 18 to 20 weeks.” Good, glad we got that sorted. A little tip? I make a diary note of the date I planted the potatoes and another entry for when they will be ready. My memory isn’t what it should be!
Which spuds to grow ~ Potatoes are fickle friends. Did you know that already? I’ve read many a review of potato varieties and how great they are only to be truly disappointed when I’ve grown them, I ‘m thinking of Lady Christl, they were positively disappointing, even dare I say it miserable and yet other growers waxed lyrical about them. You see potatoes grown in one part of the country will differ in flavour to those grown in another. That’s what I call fickle. But I secretly like them for it.
However it does give an extra frisson of excitement and doubt when trying new varieties. I’m on the hunt for a tasty first early. So far they have been elusive. Last year was probably the best with Red Duke of York, I also grew Sharpes Express but wasn’t wowed by them.
After that I need to decide on some 2nds, I see these as my salad potatoes – Ratte were gorgeous last year, lovely texture and colour, took no cooking at all and were heavenly with a dot of butter and some chopped chives or mint. No doubt I’ll find some room for Charlottes as a 2nd, and absolute classic salad potato.
As to Maincrops and more salad type potatoes I had a break from Pink Fir Apples last year, and yes I missed them and grew Belle De Fontany, a close cousin. Tasty but again I missed the wow of a home grown potato.
But I did grow Mayan Gold and they more than made up for others shyness in the taste department. Mayan Gold or Twighlight – the deep buttery yellow flesh has hooked me in.
Between Alan Romans and JBA Seed Potatoes they will give me the amount of potatoes and the varieties I want. I only want to grow a few of each I don’t need several hundred weight in potatoes, I don’t need to sink the navy. Or feed them for that matter. It’s amazing how far a few potatoes will go when in the ground. You see they are not just fickle but clever, from that one potato you plant you will get at least a dozen more. See I told you they were as cheap as chips.
If you are short on space just grow Earlies. The taste is all wow, and they don’t suffer from pest or blight damage. Unless I get some extra growing space this year I won’t bother with a maincrop, so bye bye Salad Blues and Pink Fir Apples, it was lovely growing you but space is space and frankly we just don’t eat that many potatoes.
Ways to grow them ~ they are reputed as perfect ground breakers, but it will be you that will be doing most of the ground breaking, simply by earthing them up. My first year of growing them, I diligently did this. Digging and lumping clods of clay-soil up them. It worked I got beautiful spuds and the ground was broken up. The following years, I haven’t been as diligent. Yes an admission. It’s time consuming, and hard work. And besides I’ve since become “enlightened” or rather I grow lots of other stuff that takes up more of my energy. So I sort of earth them up, but I do so by using lots of mulching material, I no longer do the back breaking digging, it’s mulch, mulch, mulch all the way. Panic Ye Not! Mulching yet another gardening term – its all about keeping the moisture in, and the weeds at bay.
You can even plant potatoes in a shallow hole, place black plastic over them, remember to cut a whole in the plastic so the plant can grow through it. And yes, no earthing up. But I understand you are creating some kind of slug and snail heaven. They’ll be travelling miles just to go and live in that shiny damp residence. And slugs like potatoes.
You can grow spuds anyway you like, in bins, in buckets, in boxes and in bags. And yes even in the ground.
I’ve seen people who will peg a stake in the ground, tie a piece of string to it and then carry it to the other end of the bed, tie the string to another stake and create a perfect and straight planting line. So that when they earth up their spuds they create the most beautiful straight lines, and have a triangular thing going on. I admire them in a sort of warped way, but frankly I just think that’s showing off (oh and having too much time on your hands and possibly being a bit OCD about it too). I think they are showing off their perfect soil. You see you can’t create a triangle shape with lumps of clay.
So it’s mulch, mulch, mulch for me, and a vague bit of drawing up the soil around my potatoes with my Azada.
How to plant them ~ A word of warning, don’t plant them too deep – the first plantings may need protection from the frost, but after that they will grow and grow. And when you come to dig them up, if you have planted them too deeply you will be digging for …. miles underground.
Caring for them ~ well we’ve already covered earthing / mulching. Other than that there is very little care needed. The will need sunshine, warmth and water. But that’s true of all plants.
Pest and diseases ~ did I see mention of slugs? Yes, they like them. And as with all plants they have their friends and foes. Blight and Scab are 2 that get many mentions. It’s worth having a read up, or at least look up some gruesome photos to know what to look for and do.
Harvesting them ~ Take some kids along with you, borrow some if you have to. I haven’t met a kid yet who hasn’t been whisked up in the excitement of digging for treasure and hunting out all the potatoes, it’s like digging for gold.
Cooking Potatoes ~ before you order, buy and grow potatoes have a think about how you like to eat them. Is it chips, salad potatoes, roast potatoes or mash you are after? There is a variety for every occasion.
Right, I better go and get that potato order sorted