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How to grow potatoes from scratch and get great results

20th December 2018

garden, gardening, grow your own, horticulture, potatoes, seed potatoes,
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Find out everything you need to know about growing potatoes with our essential guide

No matter how you like to eat them, the humble potato has deservedly won its place in the hearts of millions. Why are they so popular? Well, their sheer versatility makes them a must-have veg in every kitchen up and down the country, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

If you want to truly enjoy the flavour and quality that potatoes have to offer, however, you really should be growing them yourself. Follow this quick guide to a successful potato season and you’ll reap the rewards come summer.

Where should you grow potatoes?
Seed potatoes can grow in almost any soil type, but ideally they prefer to be grown in deep, well-drained, loamy soils that are not too heavy. These can be enriched with plenty of organic materials to help retain water and nutrients for your potatoes to grow big and healthy.

Potatoes hate the frost, so a nice site that’s facing south (to get plenty of sunshine) is ideal. If you are planting potatoes every year, they should be rotated yearly and planted in a different position. A minimum of 3-4 years should be left before planting again in the same position. This helps reduce diseases among the crop. It is worth noting that potatoes are susceptible to a wide rang of pests, including slugs and aphids.

When to start?
It depends on the seed potatoes you have, either first earlier, second earlies or maincrop – referring to how long it takes between planting and harvesting. For earlies, you should plant from March to April (when the weather turns a little milder), waiting a minimum of 10 weeks to mature (or 13-15 for second earlies) harvesting around June.

If you have maincrop potatoes, then plant mid to late April and allow approximately 20 weeks to mature, so that harvesting takes place August onwards. Maincrop take up the most room in your garden but they are the best varieties to store for eating at a later date.

Get chitting your potatoes
Whenever you receive your seed potatoes, you should begin the process of chitting. This simply means encouraging the potato to grow a sprout. The best site for this is a frost-free sunny area – you can leave your potatoes in an egg carton, with the blunt end with most eyes facing upwards. The short shoots that appear will help get the potatoes off to a good start when planted. While not essential for maincrop varieties, it is recommended to chit your earlies.

Small green or purple shoots reaching approximately 1 inch are ideal. If you find that yours are sprouting long white shoots, this is a sign of too much heat and not enough light.

Planting your spuds
The process of planting usually starts by making a ‘V’ shaped drill about 5” deep in your soil. Or, if you have limited room and light enough soil, you can make a hole to carefully drop your potato into.

Space your rows around 24” apart for early varietes, and 30” apart for maincrop, with 12” or 15” spacing in those rows for seeds to allow space to flourish. After planting out along the drills, carefully cover each potato with a handful of peat or fine soil. Make sure not to snap off the sprouts, as they are fragile! The potatoes should have a covering of approximately 3” of soil.

Earthing up!
As your plants grow, earth or soil needs to be used to cover the potatoes as they begin to show above the surface. This is to prevent the tubers turning green from exposure to light, and therefore inedible.

Earthing up can be done to cover some leaves as well; this will not do your crop any harm. Repeat the process until the ridges become 8 inches high.

Food and water
Potatoes love moisture, particularly when the tubers begin to form around flowering time. Giving the crop a heavy soaking less often is preferable as this gets down deep through the roots. Adding fertiliser can increase yields, but avoid high nitrogen rates as they will delay crop maturity.

Rainfall should be sufficient, especially in the UK and Ireland – just watch out for periods of drought.

Time to harvest
When to harvest depends on dates of planting, variety and also weather conditions throughout the season. The rule of thumb for earlies is to eat when freshly harvested, in June-July in small amounts. For maincrop varieties, lift from September onwards. When storing, ensure the tubers are thoroughly dried, and stored in a breathable sack, in a cool, dark and dry place.

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