Got a question about potatoes? Alan probably has the answer!
What Is A Seed Potato?
A seed potato is one that has been grown for the purpose of using the tubers as seed as opposed to eating. True seed potatoes are grown in cooler locations and are certified by official agencies to ensure they are free from, or have very minimal, defects such as virus or disease. You can use small tubers from your own crop but while this may work perfectly it risks carrying issues over from one year to the next. Again this varies with location, the cooler being the lesser risk. Always buy certified seed potatoes - the identity of which will be on the pack for you to see. There are various health grades but don’t worry about that for now.
What does Early, Second Early, Maincrop and late Maincrop mean?
It's an industry description of how fast they are grown and when they will be ready. As a rule the sweet new potatoes are harvested from First Earlies when the plant is still immature but you can do the same with any group.
Do I Treat Them Differently?
Yes! First Earlies are planted closer together than others as the grower usually wants the crop to be harvested when the tubers are small in size.
First Early potatoes should be planted in rows allowing about 15cm (6 inches) between tubers, and 60cm (2 ft) between rows.
Second Early potatoes should be planted in rows allowing about 30cm (12 inches) between tubers, and 75cm (2 ft, 5 inches). If you are letting die back then larger spacing for varieties that make big tubers should be considered.
Maincrop (and Late Maincrop) potatoes should be planted in rows allowing about 30cm (12inches ) between tubers, and 92cm (3ft) between rows.
Planting depth is usually 15cm or 6 inches.
What Is Chitting?
Chitting is the term given to early growth from the eyes of the potato. Try and get growth from as many eyes as possible by standing the potato in a cool airy place like a seed tray. When you buy your seed potatoes they should not be sprouting unless you have specially arranged them that way. Don’t worry too much about chitting but don't plant like the picture on the right. The chits are long and weak and will become infected and die or at least create weak plants. It would be better to rub off all shoots and let them regrow than plant like the picture of the left.
When Do I Plant Them?
The key thing is to avoid frosts so from planting time to sowing through the ground is two weeks. If you live in the South West then Earlies can go in around February but depending on your climate the usual time is March to April.
When Will They Be Ready?
Allow thirteen weeks to get a crop but if later, the warmer weather may speed that up. When you have flowers on the plant or when the plant leaves start to lighten then you have tubers underneath for certain. Scrape away around the bottom of the plant and look for egg sized tubers.
Can I Grow In Any Soil?
Yes. Potatoes are not that fussy. New plots that were grass may be great in nutrition for the crop but also have wireworm or chaffer grubs but both should not be problem on cultivated land. Most will need either lightening or heaving depending on the structure but most importantly add home-made compost or manure during the crop rotation.
Are My Potatoes Likely To Get Potato Blight?
Ah yes, in some wet seasons this could be a challenge. However there are many methods to avoid late potato blight Buy 'The People's Potatoes' and pay particular attention to HOW you grow any VARIETY you choose. This is a passion of mine!
What About Slugs?
Good news. Another avoidable problem with attention paid to where slugs live, variety choice, trapping them on wet nights, spacing and crop growth.
Why Grow Potatoes When They Are Cheap To Buy?
Sorry I can’t do the economics for you. This is the way I see it. Your potatoes will be beyond value and intrinsically better than the average shop offer. You will have the variety you want and by growing your food you can share in the joys and pains of all those in growing. Your life and understanding of it will be enriched. How can you put a price on that?
I Don't Have A Garden, Just A Balcony Or Tiny Space!
They can grow in buckets, bags, boxes. Anything that allows drainage and a degree of root development. Early varieties do best in pots!
© Alan Wilson 2017