Growing potatoes is easy, even in small spaces and containers. What's more, the humble spud comes in myriad shapes and colors and has many uses in
the kitchen, from summer salads to all-season chips.
How to Grow
Potatoes need an open, sunny site with moist, well-drained, fertile soil, improved with plenty of well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost. Sold as “seed” potatoes (small tubers), they are labeled as “earliest,” “mid-season,” or “late,” depending on when they are ready to harvest.
For an early start, cover the planting area with sheet plastic to warm the soil, and plant the tubers through it. This also retains moisture and suppresses weeds. Once “chitted”, plant earliest potatoes after the frost in the spring; mid-season in mid-spring; and late types from mid- to late spring. Plant the tubers 4–6 inches (10–15 cm) deep, and cover the chits with 1 inch (2.5 cm) of soil. Space them 12 inches (30 cm) apart with 24 inches (60 cm) between rows for earliest, 30 inches (75 cm) for late types. Keep plants well watered, weed regularly, and “earth up” as needed.
Harvest earliest types in early summer, scraping away some soil first to see if they are large enough. Mid-season will be ready in midsummer, and lates from late summer to fall. Unearth them with a fork, taking care not to spear them. Clear all plant debris from the soil.
Types and Varieties of Potatoes
Try ‘Accent’, ‘Concorde’, ‘Epicure’ ‘Foremost’, ‘Pentland Javelin’, ‘Red
Duke of York’, ‘Swift’, ‘Vivaldi’ and ‘Winston’ varieties.
Try ‘Belle de Fontenay', ‘Charlotte’, ‘Estima’, ‘Kestrel’, ‘Kondor’,
‘Lady Christl’, ‘Picasso’, ‘Ratte’ and ‘Yukon Gold’ varieties.
- Late: Try ‘Desiree’, ‘Golden Wonder’, ‘King Edward’, ‘Maris Piper’, ‘Navan’, ‘Nicola’ ‘Picasso’, ‘Pink Fir Apple’ and ‘Salad Blue’ varieties.
Garden Speak: "Chitting" Potatoes
Early potatoes can be “chitted” before planting, which involves giving
them an early start indoors. To do this, place the seed potatoes with
their “eyes” facing upward in trays or egg boxes in a warm, light place
so that short green shoots, or “chits,” appear. Once the chits are 1/4- to 1/2-inch
(5–10 mm) long, the tubers are ready to be planted out.
When the developing stems reach 6in (15cm) tall, start “earthing up” by
mounding up the surrounding soil to cover the shoots, burying them by
half their height. Repeat every few weeks as the shoots grow. This
prevents tubers being exposed to sunlight, which turns them green and
makes them poisonous. It also helps stifle weeds and deters blight.
Potatoes grown through black plastic sheeting don’t require earthing up.
Earth up potatoes carefully to avoid damaging the stems, which are
brittle at the base and can snap. Earthing up also prevents wind damage.
Growing in Containers
If you don’t have much space, you can grow a decent crop of potatoes in a
container or strong bag. Ensure that it is at least 12 inches (30 cm) deep
with drainage holes, and half-fill it with compost. Place one or two
potatoes on top and cover with 4 inches (10 cm) of compost. Add compost to
half-cover the shoots as they grow, and water regularly. Harvest the
potatoes as soon as they are ready. This method is suitable for all
New potatoes are ideal for growing in strong plastic bags. Harvest the
crop by tipping the potatoes out once they have matured.
If you’re not sure when to harvest potatoes, look for tell-tale signs
above ground. Earliest varieties are ready when their flowers begin to
open or the buds drop. Late crops are ready when their foliage yellows,
although they can be left in the soil until mid-fall to bulk up. Cut
back stems 10 days before lifting.
Open flowers mean that the earliest are ready to lift, but late crops
still need time to grow.
Storing Late Potatoes
Lift potatoes on a dry day, and leave them to dry on the soil surface. Discard any that are diseased or damaged, and use smaller tubers fresh since they deteriorate sooner. Once the skins are dry, remove excess soil, but don’t clean them further to prevent damaging the skins. Store the tubers in paper bags or in trays, somewhere dry, well ventilated, and frost-free. Check them often for damage or decay.
Watch Out for These Pests and Diseases
Potato cyst eelworms cause leaves to yellow and plants to die off early,
reducing the crop. There is no control, but it helps to rotate crops, and use resistant
varieties. Another problem that can plague potatoes is blight, which causes dead patches on the leaves and stems and on the
tubers, which then rot. It is prevalent in damp summers, so if the
season starts wet, spray plants with fungicide. Destroy infected plants.