Originally domesticated in South America some 10,000 years ago, the potato in all its forms is now cultivated and eaten across the world. Its versatility and adaptable flavour has allowed it slot into food cultures all over the world, resulting in a number of wildly delicious dishes ranging from the fried potato chip to the wonderfully filling jacket potato.
Those willing to look past its starchy reputation, and grow a batch of potatoes themselves, will be rewarded with a crop that is relatively hardy, quick to grow and long lasting.
Do you have the space?
Although potatoes are enthusiastic growers they do need space to do their thing. Ideally you’ll have a decent-sized allotment at your disposal so that you can ‘earth’ them up once their shoots start to appear. As you’ll be sowing your tubers at a depth of 10cm, you’ll need to have an available depth of at least a half metre in order to have enough soil to play with.
If you don’t have the luxury of an allotment then you can use a few savvy tricks to make the most of your space. Traditional planters can be used, chicken wire can also be moulded into a bin padded with newspaper, or you could get handy and re-purpose wooden packing crates into boxes. However you choose to grow your potatoes, you’ll need to make sure that they have plenty of sunlight and a healthy 50/50 mix of soil and compost.
Potatoes will grow from the end of February right through to the end of September which makes them a great staple to have on your allotment. They do, however, require a bit of prepping and TLC to take them from humble tuber to might ‘tato. Before you go about prepping your seeds you’ll need make sure your ground is thoroughly dug and well fertilised with compost, this is best done in November or December. Remove any big stones and weeds to give your potatoes the best chance of prospering.
Your potato ‘seeds’ will look a lot like potatoes, but before you pop them in the ground you’ll need to ‘chit’ them. This step encourages the seed potatoes to grow strong roots and provide you with a greater yield. Starting in late January, set out your seed potatoes in empty egg boxes or seed trays in a cool, bright place to let them sprouts. Let these chits grow up to around 25mm in length before planting them.
You can start planting your first potatoes, known as ‘earlies’, from the end of February. Dig out a 10cm deep trench and plant your seed potatoes 30cm apart from each other in rows around 60cm distant from each other. Cover up your seeds with soil and top with fertiliser if your soil is not quite rich enough. You’ll be able to four more crops over the season, with each requiring slightly different sowing conditions – check this site for more info.
Young potato plants can be susceptible to frosts during the winter so make sure to keep an eye on them. As soon as they sprout cover them up with soil. Once those shoots break through and grow at around 23cm you should cover them up once more to stop the tops of ‘tatos going green. During this phase it’s imperative that your plants also get plenty of watering.
Harvest your early potatoes after 10 weeks or when the plants being to flower. Later crops of potatoes will take a little longer to grow (check the aforementioned site for more info) and will often need to be left in the grown to harden. Once you’ve got your potatoes out the ground it’s dinner time!
If you store your potatoes in a dark cool place then you can expect them to keep for up to three months, expose them to light and they will start chitting all over again. Their flavour does not change markedly over this time, although (as with all veg) it’s best to eat them sooner rather than later. Crush and roast your new potatoes to make a delicious side dish, bake your larger varieties for a carby dinner or check out these other potato recipes for more ideas.