I am going to give you a complete guide on how to grow your own potatoes. Potatoes are one of my favourite things in the world. My first love, if truth be told. Whether boiled, roast, chipped, mashed, baked, gratin hmmm anyway you get the picture. I love them and what better way to have them than to grow your own. Grown with your own care and attention, along with tasting better.
I will also look at the four main types of potatoes. First earlies, second earlies, maincrop and salad potatoes. I will go through the best soils for growing your own potatoes. Look at some of the best practices and tips for success. Look at how we can successfully grow them in containers and also outline how we can grow and have new potatoes for Christmas.
So let’s go through the main types and mention some of the best varieties within each type.
First Earlies mature in roughly 100-110 days. They can be sown outdoors once soil temperatures are above 6-8° for a week or so in a row. Timing or month/week can vary. Depending on the weather it is critical to never sow potatoes into cold ground. This means some years you may be able to plant in February. However it could be later always watching out for that soil temp to be at the required level. The normal schedule would be to sow/plant in March/April and harvest June to August. See planting guide quick chart below for spacings. We harvest first earlies then when the first flowers appear. Generally here you just dig them as you want to eat them because they don’t store very well. A few of the best varieties within First earlies. Home Guard, Maris Baird, Pentland Javelin,Red Duke Of York, Duke Of York, Sharpes Express & Arran Pilot and many more. Ok so John go ahead and pick a favourite I think here it would have to be Sharpes Express. It has a great taste, white flesh and skin and can be used in multiple ways.
Second Earlies are quiet similar to first earlies and they mature in roughly 110-120 days. They can be sown outdoors again once soil temperatures are above 6-8° for a week or so in a row. Normal schedule would be to sow/plant in April/May and harvest July to September. See planting guide quick chart below for spacings. Second earlies are harvested when flowers are fully formed. Much like first earlies, which are normally dug as required. Although some varieties will store for short period of time.
There are less varieties within Second Earlies than with the other types. The best ones are Wilja, Catriona, Kestrel, Maris Piper which really is a top potato and excellent for all forms of cooking. However here there is no real choice for me in picking a favourite in second earlies it has to be British Queens they are just the best to eat, floury potatoes that the skins burst open when you cook. Eaten with a little butter and salt there is nothing better, simple but great!
Maincrop potatoes are the slowest maturing of all the potato types and they mature in roughly 125-140 days. Normal schedule would be to sow/plant in April/May and harvest September/October.See planting guide quick chart below for spacings. We harvest main crop potatoes then when the foliage has fully died back in late autumn. There are lots of varieties within maincrop potatoes some of the most popular are, Kerrs Pink, Rooster, Setanta, King Edward, and Golden wonder. Generally earlies are out or nearly out of the ground before any blight is about in July/ August.
Maincrops however are actively growing at this stage and so van be susceptible to blight so blight resistant varieties are really popular for gardeners and small holdings alike. The best varieties with blight resistance are Cara, Setanta and the Sarpo family (Sarpo Mira, Sarpo Una & Sarpo Axona) I personally wouldn’t be a fan of any of the Sarpo family but Cara and Setanta are really good. Setanta is very like Rooster but with the added benefit of being quiet blight resistant. For me though my favourite maincrop potato is Record which is great for all forms of cooking, stores well and has a heavy crop.
Salad potatoes are specifically grown to add to salads. This type of potato has grown very popular in recent years. In terms of spacing and timing salad potatoes are very similar to second earlies. Normal schedule would be to sow/plant in April/May and harvest June to September. See planting guide quick chart below for spacings. There are not as many varieties in salad potatoes as with the other types and some of the varieties are grown for novelty affect. The most popular varieties are Charlotte, Nicola Pink Fir Apple and International Kidney. Salad potatoes are mostly grown in containers and succession shown which means sown at different stages in order to have fresh crop available, over a longer period as again salad potatoes don’t store very well.
So what’s the best potato to grow at home? my three recommendations and my personal favourites are Sharpes Express, British Queens and Records. My choice is based on taste so you may find varieties that suit you taste better and what better way than to try and see!!
Quick planting guidelines.
|PLANTING AND HARVESTING GUIDELINES QUICK CHART|
|Maturity||Plant||Depth||Distance Between Tuber In Row||Distance Between Rows||Harvest|
|First Earlies||March – April||10cm (4in)||25-30cm (8-12in)||45cm (18in)||June – August|
|Second Earlies||April – May||10cm (4in)||25-30cm (8-12in)||45cm (18in)||July – September|
|Maincrop||April – May||10cm (4in)||37.5cm (15in)||75cm (30in)||September – October|
|Salads||March – April||10cm (4in)||25-30cm (8-12in)||45cm (18in)||July – September|
Best soils, site and practices for growing potatoes.
potatoes like deep, fertile soils that are mostly free draining and retain some moisture. They are quiet a hungry crop and demand for food and water is high with potatoes, Particularly maincrop potatoes as they are in the ground the longest. Ideally the ground should be high in organic matter so well rotted farm yard manure dug into the soil before planting is a great help. Adding in additional potato fertiliser is also very beneficial you are generally looking for a NPK ratio of 12-12-24 when choosing the food.
This is a very important part of growing potatoes at home. You should move your potato crop to different pieces of ground each year. The reason for this is to prevent the build up of soil pests and diseases. Earlies a 4 year rotation is recommended. Maincrop a 5 year rotation is best. This means that after you have harvest your crop in any year you will not go sow again in that spot for 4/5 years. This is really important and critical to your success.
This is basically the process of pre-sprouting you potato seed before planting to give them a head start once they get in the soil. The best way to do this is you place the seed potatoes in a shallow tray. Egg cartons are used, with any shoots facing upwards. They should then be placed in a cool light place. Which is protected from frost. Soon the seed potatoes will produce strong, healthy sprouts, which will ensure they get off to a great start as soon as you are ready to plant them.
Once potatoes have grown to a height of 8in (20cm) it is recommended to each them up. This means that clay/earth should be piled up around them (earthed up). This will prevent light getting to the tubers and will create better drainage and give the plant more room to grow. This process can be continued throughout the growing season. Until the plants have grown too big to enable this to happen. A pot of 30cm or greater you should be able to plant 2 tubers.
We harvest our great crops of potatoes (we hope) in June-September for earlies-second earlies and between September-October for maincrops. With earlies and second earlies we are more or less harvesting as we need them with little storage. Maincrops however we will store so we can enjoy our bounty over a longer period. When getting potatoes ready to store make sure they are as dry as possible. Insure all damaged potatoes are removed . As this will cause rot among your stored potatoes if not removed. Once this is done, we can store in a cool dry place with no frost or direct sunlight. These will remain in good condition for us to enjoy over the winter and into the spring months.
You can grow potatoes really successfully in containers. There are many pots, bags and planters specifically for this but any pot which is big enough will work. The rule of thumb is for a pot 30cm in diameter you use 2 seed potato/tubers and for every 10cm increase you add another seed. So 30cm = 2 seed, 40cm=3 seed etc. Planting indoors can start to take place from February. This can be left under glass to mature or be moved outside once the risk of frost has passed. Its really important to remember to feed and water potatoes in containers as I said the demand a lot of water and food as they grow to ensure you success keep and eye of these point regularly especially during dry periods.
There are some pests and diseases that can affect potatoes, however we won’t dwell on these too much. If you follow the tips above you will be a long way towards growing perfect potatoes. The only point we should mention is potato blight. In Ireland/UK in certain years this can be a problem, blight likes warm and damp conditions and mostly is prevalent in July & August. If you are growing first earlies or second earlies generally blight won’t be a problem for you. You will have the potatoes harvested before blight sets in.
A few simple tips to help combat blight, firstly to choose blight resistant varieties. As mentioned above these include Setanta, Cara and Sarpo Family . Secondly don’t grow tomatoes and potatoes in the same area. This is because potato blight and tomato blight are the same family. They can easily spread from one to the other. Finally get a treatment in the garden centre that you can use on a regular basis to prevent blight an routinely use this every 7-10 days which conditions are conducive to blight.
A final topic I wanted to cover was how to grow your own potatoes for Christmas. To do this you will need to get your seed in July/August, this seed has to be seed from the previous season, which will have been kept in cold storage until this time. There will be no need for chitting or waiting for correct soil temps at this stage. You will be limited on the varieties and quantities at this stage of the year. The Christmas market is not huge so make sure to get your seed early. The best way to grow your potatoes for Christmas, is in containers outside.
This is almost in reverse to what we said earlier. You can then move them back inside, when the first frost of the autumn comes along. So planted in July/August your Christmas potatoes will be ready late October early November at this stage just remove the stalks allow the compost to dry and leave in the pot to store for the big day. Please make sure to check before Christmas Day that you are happy with the potatoes and that they are good quality which they should be but just in case!! What a nice treat that would be to have your own new potatoes as part of your Christmas dinner.
So that is it a complete guide to growing your own potatoes, I hope you have great success.
Until the next time
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