There’s nothing quite like the taste of a home grown spud! With St Patrick’s Day, the traditional start of the growing season, upon us, it’s time to prepare to plant this year’s crop and work towards growing the perfect potato.
We’re all hoping that the threat of frost has gone. The soil has finally started to warm up and dry out a little so it’s the ideal time to start working in the garden again.
Preparing Seed Potatoes
If you started to chit your seed potatoes (place them in a sunny position to encourage tubers to start growing) you should have lots of eyes emerging from them now. Before you plant, identify the three strongest eyes and remove the rest. This will help you produce larger potatoes. Leaving six or seven eyes will help you grow more but much smaller potatoes.
Prefect Soil for Potatoes
Potatoes love deep rich soil, so when preparing to plant, spend a bit of time digging through the soil, using a spade or a fork to soften it up. Make sure that it’s been dry for 4 or 5 days first or you’ll compact the ground. Remove any weeds or rubble which could interfere with your potatoes growing. A little work now will boost your chances of harvesting a better crop!
Tips for Planting
Early potatoes can be planted 30cm (a typical ruler) apart in rows spaced 50cm apart. Main crop varieties, which typically include Rooster, Kerr Pink Sapro Mira and Golden Wonders need a little more space. These potatoes should be planted at approximately 40 cm apart in rows that are 75cm apart. To speed up planting, I like to cut pieces of wood to size and use these as my spacers. This allows you to move along a row at pace and plant potatoes the correct width apart.
Planting Potatoes Indoors
If you’re planting potatoes indoors, in a tunnel or a glasshouse, you may be able to plant them pretty much straight away. Best varieties are British Queens. They’ll be ready in about 12 weeks so you’ll have your own crop just as the early ones are out and everyone else is paying a fortune for the pleasure.
Feeding your potato crop
Potatoes are a hungry crop. Work some well-rotted farmyard manure into your bed to give the potatoes a good start. If you can’t get farmyard manure, use good quality compost, or even leaf mould, in the planting area. At home I like to use a seaweed feed throughout the year to give the growing crops a boost.
Dealing with Potato Blight
New regulations around the sale of chemicals mean it’s now difficult for many gardeners to get their hands on traditional chemicals used in the prevention of blight. Other people just don’t want to spray. One effective product to protect against potato blight is Bayer Potato Blight Control but if you are in doubt about treatments that you can use, ask in store for advice.
I highly recommend that home gardeners look more towards blight resistant varieties such as the fore mentioned Sarpo Mira from the outset.
Blight causes havoc in warm, muggy weather that we typically get around late May or early June. Spores travel in the air and the first thing you’ll notice is little black spots or freckles on the leaves on the stalks. Eventually these join up and the whole leaf goes black. If left untreated, a crop can be wiped out within days. If your crop is advanced enough when blight hits, it is possible to cut the stalks and harvest then within 10 to 12 days. But it is risky!
Best of luck with growing your own potatoes this year. Find your nearest store and contact details here. Check out our website for seed potatoes, tools, glasshouses and everything you need to get started.