Potatoes are a staple in most allotments or veg plots, fresh new potatoes taste delicious straight from the garden with maincrop potatoes providing a good storage crop over the winter months.
The main method of planting potatoes hasn’t changed for decades, the simple method of planting potatoes in well prepared ground and hilled up is the most reliable (and easy!) method of growing potatoes. In this article you’ll learn a few tips that will make planting easier and improve your crop.
If growing space in the garden is an issue then you may consider growing your potatoes in containers. Container grown potatoes can give huge crops but do require extra compost and regular watering that isn’t needed in the ground. You can see our “container potato guide” here.
Getting Started Chitting Potatoes
As soon as you buy your potatoes it’s essential to remove them from their bag, especially if it’s plastic rather than a net bag. Potatoes need to breathe and ideally be separated to prevent any rot of the potatoes that have been stored over winter.
Place the potatoes in a container such as an egg tray that can be used to chit the potatoes.
This tray should be kept somewhere with indirect sunlight, frost free and where no damp will get to them. A windowsill is usually a good place. Allowing the seed potatoes to be left in such a manor is called “chitting” will encourage strong shoots to grow on the potatoes that will ensure a good start when they are planted outdoors.
Chitting has been proven to increase the yields of potatoes. Faster growth and larger crops and the result of good quality seed potatoes and early chitting.
Preparing The Soil
While the potatoes are chitting early in the season you can begin the process of preparing the bed for planting. Although you can get a good crop of spuds from almost any soil - prepared or unprepared - the extra effort of digging and adding manure is worth it.
Digging the bed is the first step, removing any large stones and weeds as you go. In years gone by double digging was often done in the autumn for potatoes but risks bringing poor quality subsoil to the surface (as well as being a whole lot of extra work!). Ideally this digging should be done in January when a good strong frost will kill any weed seeds that come to the soils surface.
Potatoes really do well in soil that has had a good layer of rotted manure dug into the soil. A builders bucket full of manure per square metre is plenty to give a HUGE crop of potatoes. If rotted manure isn’t accessible this can be replaced with compost or if necessary pelleted chicken manure.
Finally, it’s also worth remembering that potatoes should be grown as part of a crop rotation and shouldn’t be grown in the same area more than once every three years. Diseases such as potato scab are much more of a problem if correct rotation isn’t adopted.
Planting Potatoes In The Ground
Potato planting time varies depending on the variety chosen; first early potatoes should be planted from early March, second earlies from late March and maincrop varieties from early April. These planting times make sure the soil is warm enough to ensure a good start.
Dig a trench in the growing bed at least 4 inches (10cm) deep. To prepare the trench for planting a sprinkling of blood, fish and bone can be spread in the trench at this point in poor soils and a layer of newspaper can be laid to hold extra moisture.
The seed potatoes can now be placed in the trench with the shoots pointing upwards. First earlies are best planted 12 inches (30cm) apart with second earlies and maincrop 16 inches (40cm) apart. The rows should always be at least 24 inches (60cm) apart.
Cover the trench over and give the whole area a light watering if no rain is expected within the next 5 days.
Potato Aftercare & Harvesting
As the potatoes come up it’s important to keep covering the shoots up, this is called “earthing up” or hilling the potatoes. A mound is created over the growing stems which protects them from frost but stops potatoes growing near the surface turning green from sun exposure.
This earthing up process should continue until all frost has passed.
Weeding is important in the first 4-6 weeks of growth to prevent established weeds taking over the potatoes. After six weeks very little weeding is required.
No fertilisation is required for potatoes after planting.
Potatoes can be harvested at any size, small new potatoes very early in the season taste delicious but it’s worthwhile later in the season to allow them to grow to their full size for storage. Before harvesting an entire plant you can dig with a trowel or your hand around the surface of the plant which should uncover some potatoes and give you an idea of their size.
Harvesting times are as follows:
- First Earlies - 10 Weeks
- Second Earlies - 13 Weeks
- Maincrop - 18 Weeks
It’s important to mention that there is really only one disease that badly affects potatoes and that is blight. Once the potatoes have blight chemicals can be sprayed on the plants to help them recover but is not advisable. Spraying compost tea on the leaves weekly from early summer has been shown to help prevent blight.
The leaves of any potatoes affected by blight must be burned to prevent the disease spreading.