The most versatile of all vegetables, the humble potato, is easier to grow than ever and when you plant an early crop in April you can look forward to lifting your tasty spuds as early as June or July.
Potato growing is the oldest established form of self-sustenance and while other veg have fallen in and out of favour over the years the good old potato has kept going strong.
It’s not difficult to see why when you consider that even those not blessed with green fingers can produce a tasty crop just by following a few simple rules.
The tubers need to be in ground by late March at the latest for the first earlies. Second earlies will arrive from those planted in early-mid April and from mid-late April is the prime time to plant main crops. This will vary however on where you live in the UK and the temperatures and is just a rough guideline.
One thing that is vital with earlies, and highly recommended for main crops, is the chitting of the seed tubers before you plant them. This effectively means forcing their growth by putting them, with most of the eyes facing upwards in a cool, light and frost free environment of a around 50°F. Buy your tubers in January/February for planting in April.
What you store them in during the chitting process depends on how many you are planting. If you are just going to plant a few then egg boxes are ideal, if you are going for a full crop then shallow, open boxed such as those you see in a greengrocers are ideal. When the shoots are around 1 inch high they are ready to be planted outside.
The time honoured traditional way of planting potatoes is to dig a long, narrow trench around 5 inches or 12.5 cm deep. You can line this with compost or even your grass clippings to promote an even better crop. The seed tubers for earlies should be spaced around 12in or 30 cms apart while the spacing for main crops should be 15 in or 37.5 cms.
The rows should be 24 inches or 60 cms apart for earlies and 30 inches or 75 cms for main. Sprinkle pellets or your slug repellent of choice between the tubers as slugs can wreck your crop.
Ensure the site you choose is in a sunny site away from frost pockets but once the new potatoes start developing they need protection from light as this can turn them green which can be poisonous..
Your first early crop of potatoes will be ready to lift around June to July, second earliest July and August and main crops from the end of August through to October depending on the variety.
The signs to look out for to indicate earlies are ready to lift is the flowers opening or the buds dropping. When the crop is ready to lift the tuber will be about the size of a hen’s egg.
Many growers store their main crop for the winter and to do this you should wait until you see the foliage has turned yellow. Once it reaches this stage cut and remove it. Leave for a further 10 days before harvesting your tubers and leave them to dry off for a few hours before you store them.
These tips will help ensure you have plenty of potatoes for your salads, chips and meals.