Growing potatoes

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Having made the difficult choice about which to grow it’s a relief to find that potatoes are quite easy plants to grow, although a little extra care can give better crop.

Here are some rules of thumb.

The potatoes you’ve bought from Potato Day in early March are already ready to start growing and will soon start to sprout. However, the soil is too cold to plant them outside yet. So, to stop the sprouts becoming long and fragile, the tubers should be placed in trays in a light, cool [but frost-free] place so the sprouts that grow will be strong and green – put the end with most eyes uppermost. This is called ‘chitting’.

Planting potatoes: the most important thing is to have warm soil, usually sometime in April – tubers put into cold, damp soil are off to a bad start!

In the garden, choose quite a sunny position for your potatoes; they will grow in most soils other than ones that are waterlogged or very, very sandy – make sure the soil is loose and not compacted [dig if necessary]. Potatoes are ‘hungry’ plants so add some compost or when you plant.

Space tubers 30cm apart for earlies, a bit more for second earlies and 36cm for maincrops. Between rows allow 45cm for earlies and up to 70cm for maincrops; allowing more space will give larger, baking size potatoes. In beds you can plant potatoes in blocks 30 to 36cm apart.

Plant 7-15cm deep and cover with at least 3cm of soil. As the leaves come through cover them over again using soil from around the plants, or use straw or grass clippings. This known as ‘earthing up’ and helps stop the new potatoes going green controls any weeds.

And apart from earthing up there’s not much to do – if it is very dry when the plants are flowering watering can help increase the size of the crop; you need about 10 litres per plant and need to make sure the water gets to the soil!