Potatoes are incredibly versatile and have become a staple in our diet. This is the time to buy your early seed potatoes to allow plenty of time for chitting and plant out at the end of winter. You should be able to harvest your crops as early as mid April.
Early crops such as the Rocket variety produce small round tubers, which are perfect boiled in salads. It is an excellent variety to be grown in a container or in a grow bag, it gives a large yield and has resistance to light frost. Sharpes Express potatoes grow a little larger with oval shaped tubers and are better suited to baking, roasting and frying.
Whichever type you go for, you will need to buy special seed potatoes, which are effectively like any other potato bought in a supermarket, but they are guaranteed to be virus free.
With early varieties you’ll need to chit your potatoes to get stronger plants. ‘Chitting’ means allowing your potatoes to sprout. To do this, keep old egg boxes and place your seed potatoes in them, ensuring the side with the most eyes (small dents in the skin) is facing up. Place the box in a light, frost-free environment, ideally at about 10C. Your potatoes are ready to plant out when the shoots are about 3cm long.
Planting your potatoes
Plant your sprouting potatoes out in free draining soil, about 12 inch apart and cover with 3 inches of soil. When the stems are about 9 inch high, use a small shovel to mount up soil around each plant. This is called ‘earthing’ your potatoes. Earthing is an important step in growing potatoes as it ensures that new tubers are not exposed to sun light, which will turn them green and poisonous! Keep doing this every other week to cover up any new shoots.
If space is limited, you can also plant potatoes in bags or large plant pots. You can buy specially designed potato growing bags, which are hardwearing and have handles. Another advantage is that earthing your potatoes is much easier in a bag.
Use a liquid feed once every two weeks to encourage more tubers. Vitax potato fertiliser is an ideal organic alternative.
Harvesting will depend on the variety and the size of potato you are after, As a rough guide, your potatoes will be ready to eat once the plants begin to produce flowers, which can be as soon as 10 weeks after planting for early crops.
Having said that, sometimes you just have to lift a plant to see if the potatoes are big enough. Using a garden fork, dig around the plant and carefully lift the base of the plant and remove the potatoes you need. If you notice a lot of small tubers in the plant, you could carefully place it back and water thoroughly to give those small potatoes a chance to grow.
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