How to grow potatoes in your garden

Potatoes take a little bit of work to grow in your garden but are worth it for the taste. If you have a small garden, then it is hardly worth growing maincrop varieties since they are so cheap to buy and they do take up a lot of room. There are really only four processes which you need to go through to grow potatoes successfully and once you know these, it becomes easy.

There are a large number of varieties of potatoes, each one performing different functions. If you use most of your potatoes for boiling, then you may want a different variety than if you use them mainly for chips. Some varieties perform a number of functions. So before buying seed potatoes, look caregfully at what they are best for. In addition to their uses, some seed potatoes are better at repelling pests and diseases than others. If you are growing potatoes for the first time, you will not know what pests and diseases are in your garden (if any) so err on the safe side. Although you can grow potatoes by planting any potato in your garden. It is always better to use seed potatoes because these have been specially treated and are guaranteed to be free from disease.

Apart from the various varieties, there are also also diferent types of potatoes which indicate when they are planted – and harvested. The packs will indicate this very clearly. Early varieties are dug and eaten straight away whilst Maincrop varieties are harvested in autumn and can be stored for winter use.. Early varieties are also divided into first early and second early types. Further indicating the time for planting.

The first thing you need to do after buying your seed opotatoes is to ‘chit’ them. This means you lay them¬† out in a frost free place to sprout. Eggs boxes are adeal for this. However, you can use any container for this (I often use seed trays if I don’t have egg boxes available. You only want a few sprouts on each potato so if you have more than two, rub the smaller ones out. This avoids to much competition and a large number of smaller, inferior tubers. The sprouts should be green and strong. Keep the potatoes in a cool, light place. Never put them in the airing cupboard or other warm dark places. The sprouts will become light coloured and long and weak.

Once you have your sprouted potatoes, it is time to plant them. Potatoes like water-retentive soil with planty of organic matter for best results. If you do not have enough well rotted compost or manure for your whole plot, then dig the planting furrows deep and put a layer of compost in the bottom. Do not lime your potatoe plot as potatoes prefer an acid soil.

Planting time for potatoes depends upon where you live and the method you are using. The earliest crops can be grown under black polythene in late winter. This is an ideal deep bed method. Plant the early varieties in early to mid spring. You plant these in rows 2 ft apart with the tubers 12 ins aprt and about 6 ins deep.  Maincrop potatoes are planted at the same time but the rows are spaced 2ft 6ins apart and the tubers are 15ins apart.

If the shoots appear before the frosts are over, cover them with soil to protect them from frosts. When the shoots are 6- 8ins tall spread a handful of blood, fish and bonemeal along each row and earth up by putting the earth between the rows over the shots, leaving a fraction of an inch showing. You can repeat this process once of twice more. This is very god for controlling weeds and it also ensures the tubers do not push up into the light. If tubers do push up, then cover them with soil. If tubers see light they turn green and become poisonous.

Early potatoes are harvested when they flower. Take only what you need immediately, leaving the rest to grow on. Maincrop varieities are harvested in mid autumn. Cut the foliage back and put it on the compost. However, if there is any sign od disease in the foliage, burn it.

Potatoes are afected by eelworms, wireworms, potato blight, scab and a number of other diseases. These are all either avoidable by buying the right tubers or are curable.

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