This is the first year of us attempting to grow potatoes. Due to the lack of space we have plumped for a variety called ‘Ulster Sceptre,’ which is a first early. ‘Ulster Chieftan’ and ‘Swift’ were the other options i thought about but the former has relatively poor resistance to disease (not usually a problem with earlies as they aren’t in the ground long enough) and the latter i think is too common!
The first step to home grown potatoes is debatable. Chitting involves putting the seed potatoes in a light frost free place such as a covered greenhouse or a windowsill so that they begin to sprout. The purpose of this is to give them a head start so that when they go in the ground, they have more of a chance. The sprouts appearing should be green – not white as this indicates they have not had enough light, and should number no more than 3 or 4. If they do appear too early or are white, according to www.gardenaction.co.uk they can be rubbed off up to 5 times before it has any adverse effect on the sprouts that replace them, which is interesting. Timing is everything! However, through reading i have done myself and discussion with other gardeners, it seems it is only necessary if you want a really early crop. It’s also interesting to note that commercial potato growers don’t chit at all.
I am using an old apple holder whatsit that was no longer needed by Morrisons to chit mine in as i didn’t have the foresight to save egg boxes. Silly, i know!
Potatoes should be planted in early March. I am going to dig a trench about 10cm deep, and place the potatoes in the trench about 25cm apart with about 50cm between each row. This will then be covered over by hand, so not to damage the sprouts. The recommended distance for earlies is 30cm by 60cm but i really do not have the space to plant any closer, and don’t mind the smaller potatoes that will result. As the potatoes grow, they will need to be earthed up – the RHS describe this as the drawing up of soil around the plant to prevent the greening of tubers by light and to prevent the onset of blight. I am aware that i may have to build some sort of structure to enclose the soil around the plant as it grows, as the beds aren’t hugely deep – a chance to buy more tools methinks!
We will also have some in large black pots that i purchased at the potato event last weekend. They have drainage holes in the bottom, and will each take 3 of the egg-sized tubers, producing no less that 15lb’s per tub! That’s pretty good going in my book. I need to remember to add some slow release organic fertiliser at planting as i always forget ‘in the excitement of planting…’
In the grand scheme planting plan wotsit, the potatoes will be occupying about a quarter of bed 2, the one that houses the roots. I have already manured most of the bed and will be ‘sorting’ the PH at the beginning of the Spring. When they are removed in June, Leeks or Parsnips will go into their space, depending on which have been the most successful in the mini-greenhouse. From past experience, it’ll be the Leeks!
The only problem with earlies is that they don’t store hugely well. Might have to find some interesting ways of cooking them…potatoes with weetabix anyone?