Potatoes are such a versatile vegetable and an everyday favourite so what could be better than the taste of freshly dug home grown potatoes. |
There are many varieties to choose from and cropping times will differ depending on whether you have chosen first early, second early or main crop.
First earliest are generally ready in June and July and take less space to grow, second earliest are ready in July and August with main crop varieties being ready from August to October. If you are hoping to be able to store some of your potatoes then main crops are best for this although they do take up more room.
Start preparing the soil in advance in November or December picking an open position which gets full sun and has a fertile, well-drained soil. To minimise risk of disease do not plant on the same site if you have already grown potatoes there for two successive years.
Give the soil a thorough and deep digging over, removing all weeds and any large stones, adding in lots of well-rotted organic material and some high potash fertiliser.
HOW TO CHIT POTATOES READY FOR PLANTING
To ensure a heavy crop which grows quickly it is best to chit your seed potatoes before planting as this will make strong shoots sprout before planting. In late January to February stand you seed potatoes rose end up in either shallow boxes, seed trays or egg cartons. The rose end tends to be more rounded and has the most eyes. Place in a frost free, cool area with plenty of light. Once the chits reach about 1 inch in length they will be ready for planting out.
HOW TO PLANT POTATOES
Planting will normally start from the middle of March to early May provided the soil has start to warm up but it is also very dependent on which region you live in. As a rough guide, first earliest should be planted about the middle to late March, second earliest, early to the middle of April, with the main crop being planted in the middle to late April.
Dig a trench of roughly 4 inches deep to which you should add a dusting of fertiliser. Plant your potatoes with the shoots pointing up and being very careful not to knock or break any of the shoots off.
Plant first earliest 12 inches apart and with 24 inches between the rows, second earliest 15 inches apart and with 30 inches between the rows and the main crop 18 inches apart with 30 inches between the rows.
Slugs can be a problem around potatoes so sprinkle some slug pellets in between the tubers. Alternatively you could try copper tape, eggshells or beer traps.
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR POTATOES
Potatoes do not require much looking after but as soon as any shoots appear above the ground it is very important to earth them up by covering them with soil to protect them from frost damage. This will need to be done regularly throughout the growing season and will result in a small mound of about 6 inches high around each potato plant, alternatively you could do it all in one go if you lack the time.
Keep your potato crops well watered during any dry periods but especially once the tubers have started to form.
HOW TO HARVEST YOUR POTATOES
First earliest will be ready for harvesting in roughly June and July once the flowers open, with second earliest in about July and August.
Main crops are normally ready in September but need to be left in the ground for about two weeks for their skins to toughen once the stems have started to turn yellow. When you see the stems starting to wither and turn yellow, cut them down to just above soil level with a pair of secateurs and leave the potatoes for about two weeks before harvesting. After harvesting lay the potatoes to dry on the soils surface for a few hours.
As soon as the potatoes are dry store them somewhere cool, dark and frost free in hessian sacks or paper, avoiding polythene bags which will just make the potatoes sweat and then rot.
Plants affected by blight are tomatoes, potatoes and other members of the Salicaceae family, with tomato blight and potato blight both being caused by the same fungal disease. Look out for brown rot on leaves and stems which spreads rapidly Underground potato tubers may also become infected all over, with a reddish brown rot which destroys the whole vegetable and also has a foul smelling odour.
Once this fungus takes hold it will be spread rapidly by wind borne spores and is very difficult to stop. The fungus also spreads very easily when there is high humidity in the air and when the weather conditions are above 10 degrees centigrade. Hot dry weather can delay and subdue the symptoms of potato blight.
Tubers carrying blight need to be burnt otherwise if they are replanted and the conditions are ideal for the blight fungus, they can then start the whole infection off again.
Blight does not survive in fully composted plant material or in the soil but over winters in living plant material, causing the fungus to be spread by wind in the following year. By leaving tiny potato tubers to remain in the soil over winter or on the compost heap they will shoot up again the following spring thereby allowing blight to remain in your garden.
There are several copper based fungicides available which will have some effect but these are mainly a preventative measure, therefore waiting for symptoms to appear may be a bit too late.
To deal with blight organically regularly check for any damage removing and burning all affected plants immediately. Weeds such as Deadly Nightshade can become host plants so keep weeds under control and avoid growing plants when weather conditions are at their most favourable for the fungus.
Cut down all the tops of potato plants at the first signs of infection and burn or fully compost them but leave the tubers in the ground for a few days before lifting them as this will give any blight spores on the soils surface time to die off. Infected or unused tubers should not be composted.
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