One of our fastest-selling vegetables last year was the potato, as people realised how easy they are to grow and how delicious freshly harvested potatoes are to eat!
Types of potato
You may have heard of the term floury or waxy potato but did you know that this was determined by the amount of water contained within them?
Floury Potatoes are drier and are good for dishes where you want fluffy potatoes or mash – but beware these are the types that can go to mush if cooked too long. Varieties to look for Estima, Maris Piper, Rooster and King Edward.
Waxy Potatoes are wetter and feel harder than the floury types. They are firm and hold their shape so are good for eating with salads. Varieties to look out for Charlotte and Maris Peer.
What is the difference between:
First earlies – As the name suggests this is the one to plant for ‘new’ potatoes. Planted in January to March they take only around 10 weeks to come to maturity and should be ready to harvest June to July.
Second earlies – Will mature a little later than ‘firsts’, usually ready July to August. Harvest straight away for small ‘new’potatoes or leave in the soil longer and get bigger Maincrop type spuds.
Maincrop – take the longest to mature (around 15 weeks) and are ready in September to October. As they are left in the ground longer they produce much bigger potatoes.
2nd cropping or ‘Christmas’ potatoes: These are cool-stored first or second early varieties that are planted in mid summer to produce ‘new’ potatoes in late autumn or near to Christmas. They are ideal for growing in potato buckets which can be easily moved if there is an early frost. Look out for Maris Peer, Carlingford or Orla.
What is chitting?
Chitting is just leaving your potatoes to grow little shoots. Chitting is not essential but it gives them a quicker start once they are planted out. Put them end up in a light, frost-free place and wait for the sprouts to appear. Many people find egg boxes ideal containers in which to do this. The place where you chit them needs to be light as other wise you will get long weak shoots (so don’t use those forgotten potatoes from the veg rack!)
When to plant potatoes
While First earlies can be planted out as early as January, you should always be aware of the likelihood of frost in your area. Traditionally potatoes are not planted out until you can be sure that the first frosts are over.
How to grow potatoes
In the soil – Potatoes are traditionally grown in beds which are dug over and prepared with manure in the autumn. Over the winter the frost breaks up the soil, then when the weather get better you plant your seed potatoes. However if you don’t get round to preparing your bed in the Autumn, all is not lost just dig a trench (or if you have a very light or sandy soil don’t even dig a trench) add some organic matter, cover this over and put the seed potatoes on top.
With both methods it’s important to ‘earth up’ (cover over) the rows so the tubers on the top are not exposed. Do this until the emerging plants are too big to do so, this helps control the weeds and also gives the plant more room to grow.
In buckets – Ideal for the patio, put a 3 or 4 potatoes in a large container, or specialist potato bucket or barrel and as the shoots appear cover then up with more compost.
When to harvest them
The longer you leave the potatoes in the soil then the bigger they become. Earlies are harvested quickly so tend to be small, usually just after the plant has begun to flower while maincrops are left longer to become bigger, normally after the flowers have died back. If you are unsure about how big your tubers are then it’s okay to have a gentle rummage about under the soil.
How to store them
Store in a very cool, dark frost free place. Potatoes exposed to the light turn green and are bitter and poisonous, protect from the frost as frosted potatoes turn to mush while too warm conditions will cause the potato to sprout.
Thanks to the Potato book and the Potato Council’s Lovepotatoes website.