“ The Solanum tuberosum is a perennial plant of the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family, commonly grown for its starchy tuber. Potatoes are the world's most widely grown tuber crop, and the fourth largest food crop in terms of fresh produce after rice, wheat, and maize ('corn'). The potato was domesticated in southern Peru and northern Bolivia and is important to the culture of the Andes, where farmers grow many different varieties that have a remarkable diversity of colors and shapes. In pre-Colombian times they were also widely cultivated on Chiloe Island, in Chile. Potatoes spread from South America to Spain and from there to the rest of the world after European colonization in the late 1400s and early 1500s. They soon became an important field crop. „
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Potatoes are one of the few things I grow that I actually eat. What I dislike about shop-bought potatoes is that they seem to go green really quickly making them difficult to use so I end up having to cook a large batch to freeze for future use to avoid wasting them.
When you grow your own, you can pick and use them as and when you need them for a good few months. Here is a breakdown of what I do when growing potatoes.
Seed potatoes are available to buy quite early in the year in various varieties. The packaging will usually tell you what they are suitable for (boiling, mashing, roasting etc). I tend do go with King Edward as I find them suitable for all my needs! I love roast potatoes, larger ones can also be used as jacket potatoes.
I tend to wait until seed potatoes are reduced nearer the end of the season, I picked up some for £2 in early spring - a bag of 40 individual seed potatoes. The myth is to plant them on Good Friday but I wait a little longer to avoid the frosts.
Seed potatoes will grow shoots which will become visible even before planting.
Potato bags - these are available for people without large gardens to sow their seed, they are around £1-£4 each (do not overpay for these!). You basically fill the bags full of compost and throw in a couple of seed potatoes about halfway down the bag and the potatoes will grow inside. Sounds simple? It is! But I have used these before and wouldn't recommend them purely because the potatoes that grew from the seed were tiny and only really suitable for boiling which I don't like.
The bags also dry out very quickly which is a pain, with the wet summers we seem to be having you can sometimes leave a whole crop of potatoes in the normal ground without having to water them!
Normal ground - when I planted them in normal ground, I used soil that had been covered in weeds for years! It wasn't special or anything and I barely even fertilised it yet I got my best results this way. I dug a spade depth down into the soil, placed a seed potato in the hole and filled it back in. In about 10-14 days they were emerging through the ground. This year I am using raised beds for the first time and am trying some in there - so far the results look highly promising!
I sow them around 30cm apart, but you can go closer just you will end up with fewer yields and will have to be a lot more careful when harvesting them.
Chitting - before you sow a seed potato you need to ensure that it has only a few shoots growing out of it and that they are at least around 1-1.5 inches in length before being planted, if not then it may struggle to develop such shoots being underground.
Earthing up - there are several ways to do this, but the reason for it is for two reasons: to keep the growing potatoes underground free from the light which can turn them green and to encourage the potato plant itself to produce more potatoes along the stem of the plant further and further up. The way I do this is about a week after the shoots first emerge, I pile some soil on top to cover it up completely. A week after I do the same again, then again, then again until I have added roughly 10 inches of additional soil to the original height of the ground.
From sowing to harvesting the time is around 14-20 weeks depending on which type of seed you have (you can find this information out from the packet). You can fertilise potatoes during growth to help them along and let them produce better crops - I have grown some without this though and the results are still good. Watering is essential, but they dont need much water when they are a large established plant - you do need to water plenty though at the start to ensure the potatoes form nicely to begin with.
Now, what I recommend here may not be recommended in books etc! But it works for me and is also logical. My Dad always said that potatoes were ready to harvest when they had flowered and the flowers were dying. I pick my first plant when the flowers are just in bloom - this gives me a decent amount of medium sized potatoes to cook and from then on I literally just pick a plant each time I need more potatoes - I don't see any sense in picking them all at once and potentially wasting some by letting them turn green. The time from picking that first plant to the last can be 2 months and the last plant is usually barely alive when pulled up!
To harvest them I pull the plant from as far down as I can, this usually lifts a lot of potatoes to the surface which I carefully lift by hand wearing gloves - careful not to break the skins. There will be plenty far down in the ground so you can use a fork to find the remainder - careful here also not to stab any (I have pulled a fork out of the ground a few times to find I have impaled the biggest most amazing looking potato!). Position the fork far away from where the potatoes should be and lift the soil, that way you should avoid any impaling.
Yield wise you can be looking at a around 1.5kg per plant or even more so roughly one supermarket bag per plant.
Who doesn't like potatoes? A great staple crop - I love roasting mine with the skins still on using olive oil and some nice English herb mixtures! I make a large batch at once and freeze them.
Keep an eye out for fields with rows of mounded up soil to earth up the plants - this is how they need to be.
In terms of cost for the seed, compost (I use cheap cheap compost and will use my own when I have some) and fertiliser - the results far outweigh the outlay and it is very rewarding to pick, wash, cook and eat a potato all in the same afternoon - the taste is worth it.
I've been growing potatoes for a long time now and I always put a few seed potatoes in the allotment whatever the weather. I first started growing my own when I was in my mid twenties and I haven't looked back since. There's no doubt about it, a freshly dug potato tastes nothing like the things you buy in a plastic bag in Tesco.
As a child and as a young woman I used to pick potatoes on various farms. I was brought up in Surrey and although it wasn't ideal potato country because the soil can be a bit sandy, there were still some farmers who grew them commercially. When I moved to Cornwall a lot of the farmers were growing potatoes as an additional crop. I used to go potato picking every summer, sometimes picking potatoes off the harvester as they were dug and sometimes driving the tractor. The sun always seemed to be shining and there was always a motley gang of workers who entertained everyone all day long with their cheerful banter.
We never bought potatoes. Sometimes the farmer would give each of us a bag to take home and sometimes I would go gleaning. After the harvester had been through there were always lots of small potatoes left on the ground to pick up. These were the sweetest, loveliest potatoes and the skins literally fell off them. I used to lightly boil them and serve them up dripping with butter. They were delicious.
Nowadays I always grow a few rows of new "teddies" and second earlies in the garden. There are so many varieties to choose from it would be impossible to say which one is best. Aran Pilot, Pentland Dell, Rocket, Charlotte, these are all good ones. If you go into a garden centre you may be able to pick up a guide to the seed potatoes they're selling. They should at least describe the seed potatoes so that you know what to expect. One second early potato that I really liked and cropped very heavily was called Lady Balfour. I grew it a couple of years ago but I haven't been able to buy the seed since. The potatoes were very large and there was a very high yield.
It isn't always worth growing maincrop potatoes. They need a lot of room and I never seem to get a very high yield. Some good varieties though are Maris Piper, Desiree and King Edward.
If you want to have a go at growing your own you will need to dig the ground thoroughly in February or March. The seed ptoatoes will need to be chitted for a few weeks so that a bit of a shoot is showing. The traditional planting day is Good Friday. Don't dig in any fresh manure. Potatoes don't like it. I give plenty of room between the rows, at least 18 inches and about 15 inches between plants. I put the tubers in about 6 inches deep and cover them up so that you can see a bit of a ridge all along the row. When they start to come through you need to earth them up. Just pull some earth over them and do this two or three times. I use a general purpose organic fertiliser sprinkled on the ground to give them a helping hand with nutrients. I usually harvest the first potatoes sometime in June. I gently scrape a bit of earth away to see if the "teddies" are ready to dig. If you've got some fair sized tubers then get them up while the price is still high in the shops. Only dig enough for one day. They are so delicious freshly dug that you won't want them hanging around for days on end. Make sure you get all of the tubers out of the ground.
Some people grow potatoes in buckets or sacks. I tried it once but I couldn't seem to give them enough water and I didn't get a very good crop. If you go for this method I would look for some reviews of potato growing kits to see what other people say and then choose the one that others have found successful.
All things considered I would always grow a few potatoes in the vegetable garden. They are a reliable crop and when everything else is being munched by slugs and snails your spuds will still be growing and will still give you a good crop. You can boil them, roast them, or cook them in their jackets. You can mash them or make them into chips or wedges. You can mix the mash with egg and flour and mould them into balls to fry. You can top all sorts of things with mash such as minced meat, vegetables or fish. You can put cheese on top or mince up some onion to make onion potato. There are whole books written about potatoes. They are a staple food in the British diet and long may they reign.
Good luck with your crop.
Potatoes are a very important part of British cuisine because we use them for many different dishes. Fish and chips, shepherds pie, roast dinner, jackets, the lot. I have always believed that potatoes are an essential part of a family diet, because they can be used for so many dishes, and they do have some fantastic nutritional values, particularly in the skin.
Potatoes can be prepared in so many ways, with so many varieties. I often do new potatoes (tinned) boiled and served for lunch. I also do roast potatoes for a sunday lunch, jacket potatoes, and mashed potatoes. Mashed are my favourite way of preparation because there are so many different dishes that it can be used with.
New potatoes are limited to smaller dishes, side dishes and for boiling, much like roast potatoes which aren't really good for anything other than Sunday Lunch or christmas dinners. I much prefer getting some mash and doing it with shepherds pie, seafood, bangers (sausages), chilli con carne, the list goes on.
Potatoes are quite easily grown in this bad weather pit of dreadful temperatures and miserable rainy days. They can be grown cheaply, require only a bit of care, and aren't too fussy about temperature or rainfall. They will grow bigger if these are right, but the point is unlike strawberries, asparagus... or me, they don't hate it when the climate isn't absolutely perfect.
They don't take long to cook, and they certainly don't take long to grow. Baby (new) potatoes just a few weeks, and any time after that is a bonus. Those little sprouts they grow when they're about to die and new potatoes have to be formed, are simply a warning sign that they are going bad, but they don't do that for a week or so either, depending on how long they've been out the ground.
The really good ones are of course, the fresh ones which have grown to a colossal size and then ended up in a farm shop with mud still on them. That's when you know they're good, and not some modified, fertiliser injected mutants.
Overall i think potatoes play a big role in british cooking, they certainly do in my house anyway, and i wouldn't be without them. I've no idea how people coped during the Irish potato famine, cos i'd be stuffed if i had to cook without them. More to the point, i'd be climbing the wall for a bag of chips after a week or so.
Potatoes are a stable part of my diet and I love their taste. Chipped, fried, baked or boiled; I love them. I do not have a very large garden but I do have areas where I can plant vegetables and I always have runner beans growing up canes in pots. Potatoes are the easiest to grow; although they are not the most attractive. The only thing you really need to consider when planting potatoes is do you want new potatoes also known as earlies or do you want maincrop potatoes which are the winter bigger spuds. I'm a sucker for delicious new potatoes cooked in butter with a little seasoning and a little bit of mint. They are the perfect accompaniment to many a good summer dish and serve well with salad. New potatoes are more expensive than their larger cousins so I thought I would give it a go and try and grow my own. I do not have much space so a small crop of new potatoes would suit my garden down to the ground.
To grow your potatoes you need to have some potatoes that have sprouted for 6 weeks. The best way of doing this is set your new potatoes in an egg box and let them sprout shoots. Once they have done this, you can put them in your pots or ground and bury them around 5" deep. If you have your pot in the greenhouse they will be a little quicker to develop especially if you are growing earlies.
Once in the ground and you should sew them around February and in June or July you will be ready to harvest. The potatoes do not need much care during growing as long as they have water they should be fine.
I bought 10 scottish earlies tubers and I paid £2.99 from a garden store. I managed to get a few fully formed potatoes but they were very small some were as big as ten pence piece. I know that new potatoes are smaller but I can not help but think that they were a little on the small size and I may have harvested too early. I love pottering in the garden but I do not have the greenest of fingers and I have learnt everything from my grandparents who grow loads of fresh stuff. I managed to get a good portion of this micro potatoes and they tasted really good; fluffy and soft with a buttery flavour. It was fun and I have already planted my potatoes for this year!
The potato has a long history of being a mainstay of our diet and we all know it is a wonderfully versatile vegetable, we eat it boiled, baked, sautéed, deep fried, mashed and roasted. It is a crucial part of traditional dishes such as Shepherds pie, Lancashire hotpot and of course a classical roast dinner. The humble potato is also the basis of big business for manufacturers who make crisps and french fries. Potatoes are an excellent carbohydrate and also contain Vitamin C and magnesium.
There seems to be an almost endless variety to choose from which grow through from early Spring to Autumn and can be floury or waxy in texture, pale white to red in colour. A few of our British varieties are: Maris Piper (ideal for baking) King Edward (good for boiling) Saxon (good for mashing) and Duke of York (often eaten as new potatoes)
~ My experience and thoughts ~
I grow potatoes in a large plot every year. Loved greatly by my family, potatoes are eaten almost daily throughout the spring and summer. I think an outdated view is that to lose weight you need to cut down on potatoes. As a carbohydrate food, potatoes are relatively low in calories and can be cooked in many ways which don't include large amounts of oil or butter. Since I started growing potatoes I hardly ever buy them because we are able to have a good store for the winter months and although this usually runs out at the end of March we decide to wait for our first earlies which I start to lift in May. As far as my family are concerned there is no replacing the fresh, earthy taste of home-grown potatoes.
~ Growing Potatoes ~
It is widely claimed potatoes are easy to grow. I think they are in terms of process but the plants are highly susceptible to various problems such as blight, ringworm and mildew. Blight, for instance, can swiftly destroy a whole crop. Fortunately seed potato varieties include disease resistant tubers, this doesn't mean the plants will not get the disease but they will be less prone to and affected by it. I highly recommend the resistant varieties because they will help ensure a good crop with less need for treating and tending plants. My all time favourite 'Orla' has good disease resistance, can be grown as an early or maincrop and stores extremely well. The potatoes are pale cream, very smooth and taste good. Seed potatoes are on sale early in the year and February is the time to start chitting, a simple matter of leaving the tubers in a dark, cool place to sprout.
The soil needs to be prepared by incorporating plenty of manure. When the tubers have produced shoots (eyes) of approx 2cm, it is time to plant them. My method is to dig a trench, place the potatoes roughly 40cm apart, cover with grass cuttings and then bank up with soil. The grass cuttings help to conserve moisture, provide nutrients and are believed to promote a blemish free crop. On the couple of occasions I didn't do this my crops were disappointing so I now religiously add grass cuttings with each planting. Slugs, birds and rabbits are then a threat to the newly planted crop so I employ various deterrents, beer traps etc. Plants are notoriously greedy and so need regular watering and further feeding. I've found nettle or seaweed feed very good for promoting growth and healthy plants.
~ Eating Potatoes ~
I love pulling up the plants to discover a hidden treasure of fresh potatoes, the pale tubers contrast so dramatically with dark soil and it always feels such a healthy and wholesome thing to do. Early in the year I mainly boil potatoes leaving the skins on and often serve with butter and chives. As the potatoes increase in size I'll then mash, roast and bake, use as a base or thickener for soups and also as an ingredient in cake and bread recipes. Chocolate potato cake is a must if you love chocolate, it's so deliciously moist and satisfying.
There must be hundreds of recipes including potato. It is the most popular vegetable in this country, what would we do without it?
Thank you for reading x
© Lunaria 2012
After having worked at a garden centre for a year, I thought maybe it was time to start growing my own. I read a couple of blogs and decided that by the sounds of it potatoes were one of the easiest to grow. Once you get the seed potatoes, you leave them in a warmish place to chit (start sprouting). They can then be planted in the ground or in large bags/pots, with the shoot facing upwards. They do need to earthed up throughout, but apart from that they require very little effort. I found that planting them in large pots was easier. By only filling the pot half with soil, and planting the potatoes in that soil, when it comes to the earthing up stage (adding more soil ontop of the shoots) you just have tp tip more soil into the pot. You do have to keep them well watered, but you get a lovely crop and they are very easy to harvest and store.
When I was a child, I used to help my dad down at his allotment. I loved to help plant the potatoes and handed each tuber to him to plant in the trench he'd just dug. We got through loads of tubers before he realised I was handing him the ones from the end of the row he'd just planted! For some reason after that, he'd not ask me to help! That was quite a long time back and I now have my own little allotment.
I think, if you are a first-time gardener/allotmenter that potatoes are one of the first things you should consider planting. They are fairly easy to grow and give good yields. I love digging them up....it's like searching for jewels in the soil, and the taste of home-grown spuds seem to be far superior to shop-bought ones somehow. They can take up a lot of space though, so do consider this when ordering seed potatoes.
Anyway, back to the spuds themselves.....
There are so many varieties to choose it's hard to know where to start. From first and second earlies, to maincrop, you have to look at seed catalogues and decide which are best for your plot. My favourites are Charlotte (early) Kestrel (second early) and King Edward (maincrop).Small gardens can be a problem, because potatoes do take up considerable space, though I get round this by planting in special potato sacks. All you do is put a couple of tubers in the bottom of each sack onto about 6" of compost and keep topping it up with more compost as the plants grow, till the sack is full. Keep it well-watered and wait till the flowers die and then you can harvest. I get good results growing early new potatoes like this.
For potatoes grown in the ground, once you have chosen the variety you need to decide where to plant. Like most plants, they do like a bit of sun, though I have grown in shade with a reduced yield. Dig the soil over and add plenty of good compost and manure if you have it, then make a trench about 30cm deep. Plant the tubers in the bottom of this trench about 30 cm apart and cover with soil, mounding it up over the tuber. The potato will start to come through in about a month, and as you see the shoots, keep mounding the soil over them to protect from frosts and stop the tubers from coming up green. You cannot eat green potatoes as they are poisonous! Naturally you have to keep everything well-watered. It takes about 3 months for the plants to be ready to harvest and I always find that bit quite exciting. When you dig the new tubers out, be careful not to squewer them with the fork, and angle it slightly away from the base of the plant. Lift the potatoes carefully and place the tubers in a box or bag, take them home, wash and cook in any way you prefer. I love boiled new potatoes with butter! The discarded plant can be put on the compost heap (unless it has been attacked by disease, in which case it should be burnt) to rot down to make lovely compost for next year.
As I just mentioned, sometimes potato plants can get attacked by disease, most often something called blight, which is a fungal disease that attacks plants of the Solanum family. It is a truly awful disease and strikes very fast, destroying the whole crop in a matter of hours. If your potatoes get it there is little more you can do that burn all the plants and tubers. You cannot eat blighted potatoes!
That said, you can buy blight resistant varieties. I grew one called Sante this year, a maincrop spud that gave quite a good yield and no blight!
A lot of people say that if you have a new plot of land that you should plant potatoes, which will help improve the soil and clear the the ground. I think it is actually YOUR digging that clears the ground, not the spuds, but they are a very good first-time vegetable to grow anyway, so worth a try!
Although I suffer quite badly with arthritis, I still love my small garden and I am the only person in a row of about ten gardens who still goes in for flowers. I know it would be easier for me if I changed to a graveled or lawned plot, but it just wouldn't be the same.
This year I thought about growing some vegetables. I'd gone on a trip to a National Trust house and had been given some free seedlings, so I couldn't wait to get going. While I was waiting for my seedlings to mature, I bought some organic compost ready for growing on. While I was at the garden center I saw a display for Potato tubers and decided there and then to give them a try.
The varieties were amazing, so I settled for one I had heard of, the humble Maris Piper. I paid 2.50 for 10 tubers and chose the early variety, especially since we were then having such lovely weather. (It was back in late April). I took my purchases home and thought about doing some research first. However, I'm far too impulsive to bother about my gardening books, so I went through my shed and found a nice deep long trough planter that I'd used one year for tulips. At just under three feet long, eighteen inches wide and 18 inches deep, I thought I'd trust to luck, after all, my mother had grown potatoes in a wooden crate several tears running when I was a child.
I did worry a bit about spacing. They are supposed to be about 18 inches apart, but mine were nearer ten inches apart and I placed them at slightly different depths. I think they were probably on offer as they had already started the 'chit' or sprouting process. You are supposed to leave them in shallow trays in February to March to sprout, but mine were ready to go straight into the soil. I covered them with about eight inches of compost-the recommended amount is six inches, but I wasn't going to be 'earthing them up' which is the process for potatoes planted in the garden soil.
I know that's important as growing potatoes can go green if light gets to them. Since green potatoes are poisonous, I wasn't risking that. Potatoes also need to be grown in a sunny position, I grew mine against a sunny wall, along with other vegetables.
My tubers started sprouting a lot more after about ten days, so I covered them with more compost, adding in a small amount of my garden soil to make it go a bit further. I should add at this point that my soil is very rich, dark and crumbly, so it's suitable for most plants. By early June I had covered my plants to the top of the trough and my plants were already about a foot high. It was a bit worrying as harvest time is July to April and my plants looked almost ready to flower, which they did at the end of June.
The flowers themselves are very pretty, a pale lavender color that soon developed to purple and yellow. Should I wait or harvest? Now I did check my gardening books, though they didn't give much of a guideline. The advice was to harvest about twelve weeks after planting, or a week after flowering. I was still unsure since they showed no signs of flagging and I didn't want to lose a crop.
I dug up my first potatoes at the beginning of July and had a crop of about forty lovely white potatoes in a range of sizes from salad size to medium boilers. They were so white and clean that I was afraid I'd done something wrong. They didn't seem to have any skin on at all. I washed them, patted them dry on kitchen roll and kept them in a dark sack for a few days. I couldn't wait to try them though, so boiled some to have with fish and peas. They were lovely and firm outside but nice and soft inside, but without that slight mushiness you get from later varieties. I gave some to my neighbor to try as well, since his little boy had begged dad to grow some as well. But dad had drawn the line at strawberries alone!
When I dug up my potatoes, I had disturbed two of the plants, but firmed around them, as there were still lots of tiny potatoes clinging to the roots. These have grown on and I've had a second crop of about twenty, which doesn't seem too bad. I think I could have left them a little longer, but there really didn't seem to be much room left for any more. I don't think I'll get anymore now and as I've definitely got the growing bug, I'll be putting in some winter varieties soon.
With food prices going up and up, I think that growing your own is fun and sensible as well. I think I might try a growing bag next year as these take up less room. You can buy them quite cheaply in Wilkinson's stores and they use less compost. I have several large containers, so didn't want to waste them, but they do take some filling. It's difficult to price my potatoes, but this is a rough estimate.
Tubers- 2.50. Compost- 4.50 (though I only used about 20 litres). Plant food-50p.
My nearest shop is a co-op, which is quite expensive. I've paid about 1.30 for a small bag of potatoes, so I think I've definitely saved money. I hope I've given you some encouragement to try. I'd love to hear how you get on while I'm waiting for my beans, peas, tomatoes and cucumbers to ripen.
Thanks for reading.
Far from being humble, the potato is an incredibly exciting vegetable, not only to eat, but much more so to grow. There's little to beat the anticipation as you push the tines of the fork next to your carefully tended potato stems, the satisfaction as the soil parts to reveal dozens of beautiful tubers and the pride as you tuck into boiled potatoes that had been in the ground just over half an hour ago. As well as being an immensely satisfying experience, potatoes grown yourself simply taste so much better than anything you could buy from a supermarket. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find any that surpass home grown for flavour, even if you should buy from a farm shop.
==In The Garden==
My first experiences of growing the not-so-humble spud were as a child, when my parents would grow potatoes in their garden. I must say that I wasn't all that interested in where's and how's of how they managed to produce the pile of mash on my plate, but I do remember that it tasted a lot better than the potatoes we had for the rest of the year. Now I'm all grown up and have a large garden of my own, I decided it was time to master the mysteries that are home-grown vegetables and potatoes were definitely one for my list. To say I'm an amateur gardener is probably doing amateur gardeners a disservice, let's say I'm an enthusiastic beginner and as such this review is going to reflect my experiences as someone who had never grown more than a few beans until the last year.
The decision to grow our own potatoes was a bit spur of the moment really, we were browsing our local garden centre and noticed that they were selling three packs of seed potatoes for £10. After a quick calculation on how many potatoes we would need to harvest to make the investment worthwhile, we picked three different varieties. A first early (Duke of York), second early (charlotte) and main crop (can't remember the name, but it was red). Now I do realise that we should have probably done a little research before we started on this venture, but the first potato growers didn't have the internet to turn to and they managed just fine.
After planting our seed potatoes we discovered that we should have done some preparation. Luckily we had already prepared the area that we used for planting, having dug it over and incorporated some well rotted manure in the previous October. Turns out this was perfect preparation for potatoes so stroke of luck there. Rather than having any method or organisation we simply planted all the seed potatoes in a rather haphazard manner, making sure there was about eighteen inches between each hole. Since planting these we did discover that we should have done a little more preparation, including placing the seed potatoes on a windowsill to sprout. It would have also been better to have dug trenches to plant the potatoes in, would have certainly made digging them up easier. We should have probably planted the different varieties at different times as well, as we've ended up with a very short gap between harvests. (Oh well, you live and learn).
Once buried the potatoes required very little attention, obviously the weeds kept under control, which took a few minutes a day and they needed watering during dry periods, but other than that it was just a case of letting them get on with it. We planted these potatoes out at the end of February, thinking that the worst of the winter weather was over (we live in the Anglia region) only for us to be hit with some extra cold snaps. Even with this less than clement weather the first potato shoots began appearing towards the end of March, steadily increasing in size until mid-June, when they were really like little bushes and were starting to flower.
Now if I had done my research I would have known that as well as planting them in trenches, it would have benefited the potatoes (and increased my crop) if I had earthed them up, by covering the growing stems with soil at regular intervals. Of course I didn't know this, so I simply allowed them to grow unchecked. Earthing them up would have not only protected the newly formed tubers from the light which could turn them green, but would also have encouraged more tubers to form. Of well, yet again you live and learn.
By the time the potatoes had grown into foot high bushes, I finally did some research as to when they were ready to harvest. The general consensus seemed to be that the first earlys were ready to harvest about a week after the potatoes had started to flower. I also discovered that I should remove the flowers as they bloomed so that the plant put all it's energy into fattening up the tubers.
Digging up that first harvest was so exciting, as I pushed the fork into the soil about a foot away from the stem and then lifted the soil I was rewarded with a multitude of different sized tubers, all glistening like buried treasure. I'm sure my neighbours thought I was mad as I got all excited and called my partner over to see my treasure. Remember, according to all the gardening websites, I did everything wrong and yet that first harvest in the middle of June produced almost 10kg of organic new potatoes, which could have cost about £10 in a supermarket. We had a gorgeous meal that night, and it tasted so much better knowing that we had produced the potatoes ourselves. All that we needed to do was wash them, boil them, add some butter and enjoy some divine, almost nutty potatoes.
Our second crop was ready just a few days ago and was even larger than the first, producing enough potatoes for us to give away to family and neighbours as well as having more to store for ourselves. Storing surplus potatoes is pretty easy, it's best not to clean the dirt off as apparently this protects them from mould. It's also best to store them in a cool dark place as light will cause them to go green, which is poisonous (the potato is a member of the nightshade family and it's leaves, stems and green tubers contain solanine, an alkaloid poison). To help prevent them going mouldy, it's also best to store them in a way that allow free airflow. I'm storing mine in purpose made vegetable sacks made out of Hessian and so far so good.
So far we've had two crops from our potatoes, we'll be harvesting our final main crop some time in the next couple of months and we've had about £20 worth of potatoes with the minimum of effort. In all probability if we'd have followed the "rules" we'd have got an even larger crop, but we're happy with what we've got. The potatoes taste so much nicer than even the most expensive shop bought, and it's really exciting digging them up. So personally I think that everybody should give growing their own spuds a try if they've got the room.
==In A Bag==
Although we planted the spuds out in the garden this year, they do take up a lot of room that I'm planning to use for other vegetables next year. It's also not a good idea to plant potatoes in the same spot each year as this increases the risks of disease (more about this later). So my next planting will be in potato bags rather than the ground. Potatoes can be grown in tubs, pots and even grow bags, but I've bought some purpose bought bags that I'll be using to grow yet another crop this year. That's right I'm planning to grow yet more potatoes, this time so that we'll hopefully be harvesting fresh potatoes at Christmas.
I've already started the preparation, placing four inches of compost in the bottom of the bag, adding fertiliser and allowing it to warm. When my seed potatoes arrive in the middle of this month, I'll place them in a cool, light place to start to sprout before placing them on the compost, five to a tub. After covering the seed potatoes with another four inches of compost and allowing them to start growing. As the stems grow I'll keep the compost moist and keep adding more compost until it reaches a couple of inches shy of the top of the bag. By removing any flowers as they develop, I'll be encouraging the plants to put all their energy into producing lots of delicious potatoes that will be ready once the foliage starts to die down.
Growing potatoes this way means that even if you have a small garden or only a balcony you can still reap the rewards of a little effort. There are other ways of growing of course. I vaguely remember that my parents used to use old car tyres, gradually stacking them into a tower as the plants grew and the added compost. Of course this isn't quite as convenient as a purpose made bag, but it still works.
==Variety is the Spice of Life==
The really great thing about growing your own potatoes is that there are literally hundreds of different varieties with different properties meaning that you can grow a variety that's ideal for you. Some potatoes are waxy, meaning they're better for salads, while others are floury and better for roasting or mashing. Then different varieties will have slightly different flavours, so you can experiment to find your favourite. There are even potatoes with coloured flesh, I'm planning to grow some of these next year, there are red and even blue fleshed potatoes, can you imagine serving up blue mash? There are also heritage varieties, which are more flavoursome than modern varieties, but because they have low yields they're not really favoured by large scale producers.
==What I Should Have Done Before I Started==
Although we managed to get a great crop without having done any research, we were lucky. It's really best to do at least a little reading before you start and there are plenty of websites out there, just type in growing potatoes and you'll find everything you need to know. There are also plenty of specialist suppliers online, I really would spend some time comparing different varieties to choose what's best for you.
Once I finally got round to researching growing potatoes there was something things that I found was pretty essential to know. Potatoes belong to the same family as tomatoes and should not be planted in soil where tomatoes have been grown in the last four years. This is because they share a rather nasty disease in common, potato blight, which can devastate a crop. Potato blight causes leaves to wilt and discolour and contributed to the Great Potato Famine of 1846. If any of your potato leaves or stems develop dark patches, then you should remove the foliage and burn it to prevent the disease spreading. Rotating your crops will also help protect your potatoes from disease.
Although I did almost everything wrong, growing my own potatoes was an amazing experience. I really wouldn't have thought that something as mundane as lifting soil would have brought so much pleasure. Growing potatoes is exceptionally easy, they really do seem to be very forgiving and the results are plates full of really yummy spuds. I also love the fact that by growing my own I know exactly what chemicals have been used on them, which in our case is none. Finally I love the fact that rather than believing that all vegetables come from the supermarket, my child will know that they come from the ground and when he gets bigger will even be able to help harvest them. So I can't help but give potatoes five stars out of five and recommend that you give growing them a try, it doesn't have to take up a lot of space and the results are delicious.
Last year we used our new vegetable patch in earnest for the first time. It's not really a promising patch of land: it's on the "wrong" side of the house, the North side, and the roof of the garage casts a shadow over some of it, even at the height of summer. Nevertheless, we got a really good crop of vegetables from it last year and we have high hopes of repeating it this year, despite the winter not seeming to want to come to an end.
Last year we had a patch that was not being used and at the time we discovered a few potatoes that had been bought with the weekly shop that had started to sprout so, rather than throw them away we decided to stick them in the ground and see what happened. All five grew well and, even though we didn't really earth them up we still got a really good crop that lasted us several weeks.
This year we planned out how to use the patch and that didn't leave any space for potatoes. Nevertheless, we felt that we should grow them again and so decided to try growing them in bags. Now, this is usually not a very economical approach considering that patio bags usually cost around £12 each from most garden nurseries; £12 can buy you a lot of potatoes, so why grow them? However, a search on the Net threw up some perfectly suitable bags from an Amazon shop for around £3 each. That's more like it! I bought seven. I should be able to use them for several years.
A bag of seed potatoes was the next requirement, along with some bags of compost in which to grow them. Longacres came up trumps on both counts, with a 3 for the price of 2 offer on bags of compost, working out at just over £3 a bag. I would be able to seed each bag with three seed potatoes, according to the instructions so, 21 potatoes to plant, with just a couple left over. Place the bags in a sunny but sheltered spot, the sunnier the better.
In practice I did this in two stages: four bags initially and then the other three a couple of weeks later, after all, you don't want all your new potatoes to come to maturity all at the same time do you? I folded down the sides of the bags to half height initially and then only filled the remainder of the bag with half the amount of compost that would fill it.
Why do that? Well, to increase the yield of new potatoes you should earth up around the growing foliage when it grows to about 20cms above the soil. It doesn't matter that you may be covering over the lower leaves on the stems. Earthing up encourages the growing plants to produce more potatoes from the stems now submerged beneath new soil or compost. You can carry on doing this, raising back up the sides of the bags as you go, until the bags are fully opened up to their maximum height. At this point you can add no more compost.
Eventually the foliage will reach a height of about half a metre above the top of the soil and will start to produce flowers. I have heard it recommended that you should pinch out these flowers as they appear as it encourages the plant to produce more potatoes beneath the soil. Potatoes reproduce by producing these new potatoes and by the dispersal of seeds from flowers. If you prevent it doing one then it will put more effort into doing the other, the argument goes. I'm going to try this this year, not the least because I've just noticed new potato plants springing up where I didn't expect them! Clearly they have come from the seeds of last year's crop.
Once the foliage gets going it really gets going; 3 or 4cms of new growth per day is not unusual. They also need regular watering as all that growth certainly sucks the moisture out of the soil, but don't overdo it as we don't want these new potatoes to rot. Fortunately, when growing in bags, excess water will usually seep out of the bottom.
You potatoes should be ready pretty much once the flowers are well established so, as you go around pinching them out you should also be able to start harvesting. Normally, with a standard summer crop, this will be around July/August. You don't of course, have to harvest them all at the same time, nor would you want to. Unless you run a chippie you're never going to get through that amount of potatoes at a sitting!
However, potatoes don't have to be harvested at this stage. You can leave them in the soil and, indeed, if you are going to store them in a dark, cool place for winter use, you can leave them in the soil until the foliage naturally dies off though the skins will get a bit thicker if you do.
All sounds easy doesn't it but, it is not always all plan sailing. Potatoes are subject to diseases and the the most well-known and most serious is blight. That's the fungus that caused the Irish potato famine in the mid 19th century, that resulted in the mass emigration from Ireland of over 2 million people, to the USA. The worst form of blight tends to occur late on and is recognised by dark blotches on the leaves and the general wilting of the foliage.
You need to tackle it immediately. Best thing is to cut the affected foliage right back and make sure to burn it to destroy the fungus. Even severe pruning may save the plants and if you catch it in time, new foliage will grow. If you grow tomatoes as well and get tomato blight, be aware, this is a very similar disease and can spread to affect your potatoes as well.
Although you should have no problems in reusing the grow bags for the next year's crop, don't try to reuse the compost in which you grew them. Potatoes are very demanding and suck the nutrients out of the soil like no other. Dispose of the compost in your compost patch, where it can combine with fresh compost or else dig it into your vegetable patch or garden to add condition to the soil.
There is nothing better in my mind than the taste of newly harvested potatoes. My preference is always for boiled potatoes but everyone to their own.
Being Irish, potatoes are something of a staple, not only in our diet, but in our conscious! So it is only natural and proper that I spend some time getting my thoughts and opinions down on the great potato!
I think that the potato is an extremely versatile vegetable, as there are so many ways of presenting it. What would seem to be the 'usual' way, or at least apparently traditional way, must be boiled. So easy to do. Peel (or perhaps just wash, especially with 'new' potatoes) and boil in hot water for approximately 20 minutes, or until you can easily stick a knife into them.
My favourite way to serve is as mashed potatoes. Basically this is as above, but you add a drop of milk, a knob of butter and mash. This in itself is versatile, as my wife loves to make mustard mash by adding a dollop of mustard. Champ is another Irish favourite and to make this, you add chopped up scallions (or spring onions) to the mash. Again, there can be any variety of serving champ, as you can add bacon for example. Delicious.
Another personal favourite is roast potatoes. I find that par boiling the potatoes first quickens the process, but basically it is peel the potatoes, cover them in fat and throw them into the oven. They taste so good, but are definitely not good for you, what with all that fat!
Jacket or baked potatoes are perhaps the most versatile way to serve potatoes, as all you do is oven bake them and then serve with whatever topping you want - I love it with cheese and chicken.
The ultimate uinhealthy way to eat potatoes is chipped potatoes. Again, very easy to do, peel the potato and chip it into long thin rectangles and then fry in hot oil. I would be amazed if you did not know what these tyasted like! I prefer big thickchips, but my wife prefers the small skinny thin so called french fries.
There are many different types of potato - Kerr's pinks, white potatoes, charlotte, comber new potatoes, rooster and the best chip potato Maris Piper to name but a few. Some potatoes suit themselves to differnet servings, as maris Piper are the best chips!
As alluded to above, the Irish have a bit of history with the 'spud'. Poor Irish people depended on the potato as the main staple of their diet, hwoever there was a famine in the early nineteenth century due largely to the failed potato crop. In fact, there had been many famines before this one, but never had there been such widespread failure of the crop. It is known as the Great Famine and saw a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration in Ireland between 1845 and 1852 during which Ireland's population dropped by 20-25 percent. Approximately 1 million people died and a similar number emigrated.
Although blight, the disease that killed the potaot, ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, the impact and human cost in Ireland--where a third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food--was exacerbated by a host of political, social and economic factors which remain the subject of historical debate, but which I will not go into here!
So as an Irishman I feel duty bound to expound the virtues of the potato! They are tasty and easy to cook!
If you want to try and grow something but you are not a very experienced gardener then you should try growing some spuds because they're proper easy to grow and don't take a lot of time up once you've planted the seed potatoes. I don't like gardening but think it's a wicked feeling watching something you've planted grow strong and I like growing vegetables because eating something you've grown yourself makes it taste better and you can save a bit of money if you put some effort in.
You can grow them in pots or straight in the ground and I do mine in the ground now because my dad's done a proper vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden and you get more spuds that way but I've grown them in pots before and they usually come out ok.
You don't need to go and buy seed potatoes but if you do go to Homebase or somewhere like that because in the supermarkets they're selling them proper expensive like in Morrisons durng the summer they wanted £6.00 for 5 Rooster seed potatoes and that's a rip off because you might as well just buy a bag of Roosters and save yourself the effort of growing any!
I always grow mine out of potatoes that have started sprouting in the bag and they usually grow and I get loads of potatoes off them. The only thing with doing it this way is that if you wait until the potato is going soft then you probably won't get a plant off it so you have to be quick with your timing when the spud starts sprouting.
If you're growing them in the ground you just put them in the ground with about 6 ins of soil over them and keep them watered but make sure when you plant them that the sprout are pointing up to give the plant the best chance. You can put some organic fertilizer on them if you like but you don't have to and plenty of plain water will give them all they need to grow big and strong. THe plants grow dead quick and can get to about 2 feet tall.
When the plants flower you should wait until the flowers start dying off and then dig the spuds up. Out of each plant I normally get about 4 - 6 potatoes of different sizes but for some reason mine always come out quite small but I reckon that might be because there's not that much direct sunlight on our vegetable patch because I remember when I grew some in pots they were right in the sun all day and they got loads bigger.
It's just as easy to grow them in pots. You need to put some broken crocks into the bottom of the pot for draining and put your seed potato in the compost then as the shoots come through cover them with compost and keep doing that until the pots full then just let the plants grow as if they were in the ground. When the flowers have come out and died tip the whole lot out and sort the potatoes out and you get about a 5 lb bag of potatoes from a kitchen bin size pot.
It's dead easy even for someone like me who can't be bothered with gardening much but I've found a few things that can be grown with not much effort and it's a wicked feeling when it works.
"It's so easy; anyone can do it no matter how much space you have, a few seed potatoes in a bucket, a bit of compost and you are away!". These words filled my living room, spoken by the trustworthy Mr Alan Titchmarsh. Ok Alan, if it's that easy, I will give it a go!
I am a complete novice gardener, but as I am getting older, more and more, I am getting the urge to grow things. My strawberries have been more than successful, so I thought that I would venture into the world of vegetables and at the right moment, fate lent a hand, and led me in the direction of potatoes. I am lacking in space to grow, but Alan said that I could grow them in a bucket, so full of enthusiasm I headed towards my local garden centre in search of my seed potatoes where I was met with a massive array of potatoes.
There were dozens of varieties of seed potatoes all divided into groups: first early, second early and maincrop but after much deliberation and advice from the friendly staff, I chose a first early variety which are ideal if you are short of space, and should give a maximum yield fairly early in the season. My seed potatoes were bought by weight, and as I only planned on growing mine in a bucket, I bought eight potatoes - they cost me somewhere in the region of £1.50. Next I chose my compost: to be honest, I bought the cheapest that there was, and for enough to fill my bucket, I spent another £5. Then I headed home and much to my husband's dismay, I drilled several holes in his best plastering bucket - it was one of those big flexible ones that cost about a fiver.
I put about ten inches of compost into the bucket, and then I put the potatoes in, spreading them out evenly with the sprouts all pointing upwards. I covered them with another couple of inches of compost, watered then waited. About two weeks later, the first green shoots started pointing through the compost. On advice, every time the shoots peeped through, I covered them over with more compost and I watered them daily. I continued to do this until I reached the top of the bucket. Within another four weeks, the shoots were overflowing the bucket in a big way, and I was advised that once the flowers started to appear the potatoes would be ready to dig up. Another three weeks later, and I was still waiting for flowers, and the leaves were starting to wilt in a big way. A week later, I was told that if they hadn't flowered yet, then they never would, so in a bit of a girlie hissy fit (deeply ashamed!), and not expecting to find anything, I tipped the bucket onto the lawn!
Imagine my delight when I began to clear up the compost and started to find real actual potatoes!! In all, I found 1.5 kilos of potatoes, and although I was thoroughly chuffed at myself for growing something, when I took all of my costs and time into account, considering that you can get a kilo of potatoes for a pound, these are probably the most expensive potatoes that ever existed! (I still owe Mr Chilcott for a new bucket!). I could re-use the bucket next year, but the compost is not reusable as it was filled with so many roots, and you obviously have to buy new seed potatoes, so I think that it would take you a long time to get your money back using the bucket method.
As I said, I am a novice, and real gardeners probably do it better, but my experience of growing potatoes in a bucket is unfortunately not a massively successful one. Although it was deeply satisfying to grow something, I really couldn't taste the difference between my potatoes and supermarket ones and the costs incurred simply did not make it economical. However, if you have enough space to dig furrows to plant the potatoes directly into the ground, it is going to be a lot more cost effective, as you will only incur the initial cost of the seed potatoes plus your time. If you have room for three furrows, you could plant several varieties of potatoes, and probably yield enough to last yourself all year. Sorry Alan, but given my experience, I personally cannot be bothered, especially as potatoes are cheap as chips!
What is so great about potatoes, everything!!
Versatility, they are relatively cheap, healthy (depending on what you do with them), many different varieties so they is always a variety to suit your needs and they can be purchased almost anywhere or if you fancied it you could grow your own.
I don't claim to be an expert on the subject however I have spent the last couple of years working with the things. I won't mention the products we do or where they can be purchased I'll just review the raw material itself.
Well depending on what you are doing with them you need to find the right varieties. This is the key as they are two main things that effect the way a potato will bake or fry.
Sugar content & dry matter
The higher the sugar content obviously the sweeter they will be and the darker they will appear when fried or baked. Varieties such as Marfona can have a higher sugar content and lower dry matter so they tend to make a great baked potato but are not advised for chipping as it is a very wet potato. For chipping you need something around 20% dry matter like King Edwards & Maris Piper.
Varieties like Harmony have low dry matter and sugar content so they are quite tasteless although they are mainly used for baked potatoes.
To get the most out of your potatoes they need to be stored in a cool dry place best temperature is about +10°C if they are stored too cold the starch in the potato will convert to sugar. So if you insist on storing them in the fridge take them out the day before you use them to allow the sugars to convert back to starch.
Potatoes are a natural source of starchy carbohydrates and are very filling. They also contain niacin (a chemical that help to create serotonin) and is why some say combat depression with potatoes!
All in all I think people should start eating more potatoes in the diet as they have so many health benefits.
In all fairness there's very little that I can add to the debate on the humble spud that has been so expertly expounded upon in the existing reviews. My particular favourite has to be Malu's typically robust write up and so my contribution in relation to Britain's favourite tuber is a little recipe for the weekend.
While I'm currently South of the border, what Scottish childhood didn't involve fritters at some point? Delicious golden brown babies born from the union of carbohydrates and oil, these deep fried wonders are one of the myriad reasons that Scotland gets a bad reputation for junk food!
*Friday night fritters*
1. 2-3 Large floury potatoes (something like a King Edward's will do nicely).
2. Sachet of batter mix (sorry for being lazy, but it's essentially flour anyway!) The cheapest I've found is 8p from Sainsbury's.
3. Flour to dust.
4. 175 Ml of soda water (or carbonated spring water) - again, no need to go over the top on cost.
5. 1 L of sunflower oil (Don't worry, most of this doesn't get eaten).
6. Any dried herbs you feel like adding - I like a teaspoon of crushed rosemary and paprika might be nice).
7. 2-3 Small chunks of bread (not to eat!)
1. Put your batter mix in a large bowl and gradually whisk in the soda water. Let this sit at room temperature for a good half an hour.
2. After 20 minutes or so, pour all the oil into a large pot (it should be no more than half full for your safety). Start heating the oil at a high heat and be aware that it will probably take 5-10 minutes to reach temperature.
Peel, wash and dry your potatoes, cutting them into 8 mm thick strips. If you like, leave the skin on and you'll get more fibre and better texture.
3. Put your flour in a bowl and dust the slices, making sure to tap off excess. Set the potatoes aside.
4. Check the temperature of your oil by dropping in one of the squares of bread. It should instantly pop up to the top and cook quickly with a 'fizzing' sound.
5. Place the slices in the batter mix four or five at a time, allowing them to become fully coated, but allowing some of the excess to run off.
6. Dunk the potato slices in the batter mix and lower swiftly into the oil using a metal slotted spoon. Don't chuck them in - boiling oil is dangerous! Cooking maybe 3-4 at a time, allow them 3-4 minutes each to become nicely golden brown. If required, flip them over in the pan using your metal slotted spoon.
7. Remove the fritters and place them into a bowl lined with a double layer of kitchen roll to soak up some more grease. Try and cook them all as quickly as possible without risking your health.
*You can re-use the oil, but you won't grow new hands!*
After cooking, the oil can be re-used several times. Allow it a good couple of hours to cool down completely and then fish out any lumps of batter. Place a piece of butter muslin in a sieve over a steady jug and then strain the oil, catching most little burnt bits and impurities. Return to the original container. Butter muslin/kitchen muslin can be bought online for roughly £1/metre square and is very useful to have around the kitchen for making stocks and sauces etc.
***For the love of God, be careful!*** Deep frying requires concentration and common sense. Make sure the pot is on a wide, stable ring, don't turn your back on it and don't rush. Use metal spoons, as plastic and silicone ones may melt.
Keep the windows open and keep the pot away from water. Boiling oil and water react violently when they meet.