As a farmer’s daughter, for me, growing potatoes was something that happened in a field – a way of life with big machinery and plenty of manpower. Paul, on the other hand, grew up helping his grandad and his dad on the allotment and has a very different perspective.
There are three key things that we agree on.
- Always rotate where you plant your potatoes on a three year rotation otherwise they are prone to disease.
- Make sure they have plenty of water otherwise they will not swell up.
- Keep them covered with lots of soil to stop them going green from the light.
If you want to grow your own potatoes here are our suggestions for how to have a good crop;
You can start chitting potatoes early in the year. To do this place each seed potato in an egg box in the light and wait for the shoots to begin to appear in buds.
Prepare the ground well by digging and using plenty of compost at the base of each row. Plant each potato at least 12 inches apart and 4 inches deep and preferably with the shoot up! It is advisable to plant when the ground temperature is at least 8 degrees C. A friend of mine swears that the best time to plant is when the hawthorn has finished flowering. Historically this symbolised the beginning of the growing season. Practically it is a time when there is less risk of frost. Paul’s top tip is when you make the hole put some fresh grass clippings in the bottom, then add the potato and put more clippings on top. This should stop the skin becoming ‘scabby’.
It should take a couple of weeks before the leaves are starting to show and the plant is able to abstract food through the roots and leaves. So by now it is important to keep the plant watered and also keep earthing it up. By heaping fresh earth on top of the new leaves it will stop them from becoming frosted as well as protecting the new potatoes from the light.
Your potatoes should be ready to harvest in six to eight weeks.
If you do not have a big enough garden to grow potatoes you can always grow them in big bags or deep containers and it is a great activity with children. Instructions and care are the same as in the ground but you simply fill half the bag/pot with fresh compost and plant one, at most two, shooting seed potatoes 4 inches deep. Again keep earthing up every few days until the leaves and soil reach the top of the container.
Of course, the main reason for growing potatoes, on whatever scale, is because they are so tasty! Not only that, they are a good source of fibre, vitamin C and folate and give us energy for our daily life. It is good to remember that, even if your home grown potato does not look as perfect as those clean, graded, uniform, washed potatoes in the plastic bag at the supermarket, once you peel it, it will still taste lovely.
All in all I am inclined to agree with A. A. Milne when he wrote:
“What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”A. A. Milne