How to Grow Potatoes
How to Grow Potatoes
These are easy to grow, but need care to give worthwhile yields. They need a soil well enriched with organic material and can be a lot of work. To make this as little as possible and to cope with dry conditions, I have modified the usual method of growing them.
As are very prone to diseases spread on the ‘seed’ potato tubers, it is best, but expensive, to buy new certified stock every year. However, to save expense, grow self-saved tubers for a couple of years and buy new stock before yields drop or after a year with disease. Save tubers only from healthy-looking plants and never from those that yield badly or look poor. Egg-sized tubers are best, green bits do not matter. are advised to grow early varieties — these give lower yields but crop quickly. They can therefore be harvested before potato blight becomes a problem, as it usually comes after mid-summer during a warm, wet period.
Second earlies similarly miss most blight attacks, but the more productive main crops need to grow on into late autumn to give full yields. Blight is recognised by blackening foliage which smells bad and all the plants are rapidly affected.
Do not confuse it with natural withering as the crop matures. You may prevent blight by spraying with the permissible fungicide Bordeaux mixture, but this is not highly recommended. If blight appears, cut off the haulms before it runs down them and wait a fortnight before harvesting the tubers. Don’t worry about blight — it is rarely a problem if you grow mostly earlies and second earlies and these will store almost as well as main crops anyway. I grow main crops as well and have yet to suffer blight badly.
As soon as you can each year purchase your ‘seed’ and chit it. This means laying the tubers in a tray and keeping them in a frost free slightly warm place with lots of light so they start to grow short green shoots. Earlies need chitting more than main crops. As soon as the weeds start to grow vigorously it is time to plant the seed. Earlies need to be planted a fist deep and only a foot or more apart. Main crops need to be a little deeper and at least a couple of feet apart.
To produce many small new potatoes leave all the shoots on but for fewer bigger tubers remove all the shoots except one or two. These tiny shoots can be potted up in the warm and grown on to produce extra plants. Conventionally the ‘seed’ is planted in a trench with ridges for earthing up, but I prefer to dig individual holes. These can be generous, though I use a small post hole borer. Put the ‘seed’ in the bottom of the hole, then infill with soil mixed with sieved, but do not fill the hole completely.
Once the shoots appear, add soil around them whenever a frosty night is predicted. Continue to drag soil up around the shoots until you have reached molehill size. From then on earth up with aof straw, leaves or grass clippings. The latter are excellent, but must be put on in several thin layers when the weather is dry to stop them going slimy. Protect the foliage against frosty nights once it is too big to earth up — newspaper sheets will do.
Once flowers appear (they don’t always), search amongst the clippings and soft soil for tubers big enough to eat, but leave the smallest to grow on. This saves digging up a whole row for the first meal and increases overall yields. If birds continuously drag the mulch aside then the tubers develop green poisonous bits from the light, so tear slits to the middle of sheets of newspaper, push these around the foliage and replace the mulch on top of them.
If scabby patches appear on the tubers they only spoil the appearance. You can avoid them by mixing in grass clippings with the planting soil and compost. Incorporating well-wiltedleaves also works and adds potassium too.
To increase yields significantly, give potatoes heavy waterings when the flowers appear. Remove any poisonous seed heads that come after the flowers. To get the longest storing potatoes, cut the haulm off and leave the tubers for a fortnight before digging because this gives them tougher skins. The most important factor, however, is to dig potatoes up in dry conditions. Be careful not to bruise them and take out small and damaged tubers to use up first. Leave the best to dry in the sun for an hour, but no more. Keep them in paper bags in a cool, frost-free place. An old freezer makes an ideal store for them, but a garage will usually do.
Do not let potatoes freeze or they go sweet and they pick up taints easily. Adding potatoes can ‘remove’ excess salt from a dish. Try steaming potatoes for better flavour — leave the skins on and peel them after cooking.