Newest Review: ... Sounds simple? It is! But I have used these before and wouldn't recommend them purely because the potatoes that grew from the seed wer... more
Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew!
Member Name: Niall85
Advantages: Easy to grow, amazing fresh spuds
Disadvantages: Can need a lot of space
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.
Summary: Taters? What's Taters, Precious?