Growing your own potatoes is one of the best joys for home-grown fans, from experienced to new alike. Potatoes are simple to grow, care for and harvest and with so many varieties, they’re a tasty and versatile crop.
Stagger the harvest period and you’ll have your own potatoes from late May, all the way through to November.
They’re fantastic in cooking and amazing value.
What are potato tubers?
Potatoes are grown in the ground from small seed potatoes, called tubers. These are small, soft potatoes which sometimes have ‘eyes’ on them.
These are the spots from where the green stems grow under the soil.
The four main types of seed potatoes:
- Salad potatoes are firm, with waxy flesh and a unique flavour.
- First early potatoes are the first to be ready in the year and are often known as new potatoes.
- Second earlies follow first earlies and are usually ready for harvest from early June.
- Main crop can be lifted from September to October or November and stored for up to three months in cool sacks.
When to plant potatoes
Salad potatoes can be planted in March or April.
- First earlies should be in the ground between February and April.
- Second earlies usually take to the soil between March to May.
- Main crops should be planted any time from March to May.
How to chit potatoes
‘Chitting’ seed potatoes before you plant will help get them off to a flying start. Chitting means letting them grow strong sprouts.
Chitting is not essential for main crop potatoes but is highly recommended for first earlies.
Second earlies and salad potatoes will also benefit from chitting.
- Place the seed potatoes in a seed tray, so that they are just touching, or in sections of egg boxes.
- Keep the ‘rose end’, where most of the eyes are, at the top – this is where the chits will form.
- Place the trays or boxes in a cool, light and frost-free environment at around 7°C.
- The aim of chitting is to form plump, dark green or purple shoots about 1inch (2.5cm) long.
- Thin, long white shoots are a sign of too much heat and not enough light.
- If shoots are slow to appear, about three weeks before planting move the tubers to a warmer place for a couple of weeks, then back to the original location for the final week.
How to prepare the soil for potatoes
Potatoes grow well in most soil types, but ideally they should be grown in well-drained, loamy soil that is not too heavy.
The soil needs to be deep, well dug and with plenty of well-rotted organic matter incorporated.
The plot should be cleared and dug over in late autumn or early winter, so that the frost can break down the soil structure and make for easy spring planting.
We recommend that potatoes are only planted once in the same part of the garden every three to four years.
How to plant potatoes
Dig a row or trench with a v-shape, planting potatoes inside.
- Potatoes can also be planted in individual small holes, dug with a trowel.
- Rows running north to south allows the sun’s rays to warm both sides.
- First, second and salad potatoes should be 1ft (30cm) apart, in the soil to a depth of 4inches (10cm). Rows should be 1.5ft (45cm) apart.
- Main crop seed potatoes should be spaced 16inches (40cm) apart, 4inches (10cm) below the soil and with rows 2ft (60cm) away from each other.
- Potatoes are thirsty plants so water well, especially around the time that they flower.
- When shoots appear, ‘Earth up’ by pulling soil over the shoots from either side to create a ridge.
- Repeat this until the ridge is about 8inches (20cm) high.
Another way is planting seed potatoes underneath black polythene, through slits in the sheets. This technique doesn’t need earthing up and potatoes are easily harvested from just below the soil.
When to harvest potatoes
Harvesting potatoes depends on planting time and growing conditions.
- First earlies, second and salad potatoes are usually ready for harvest in June or July, when the flowers are open.
- Main crop can be harvested from September, once the leaves have yellowed.
How to harvest potatoes
For potatoes planted in trenches or holes, not under polythene, you need a fork or spade to drive into the side of the trench underneath the plant.
Slowly raise the plant using the tool and take out the potatoes you need. The plant can be replaced in the soil, firmed and watered again.