The ultimate guide for growing potatoes

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

Potatoes are a cheap and readily available veg to buy but stuffing a supermarket bag full of spuds doesn’t beat the thrill of digging your own. Here’s our guide on how to grow them…

It’s early April and up and down the land trenches are being dug to be filled with seed potatoes. Most of these tubers will have been nestling somewhere for a month or two where it’s light and cool, perhaps sitting comfortably in an egg box, to allow shoots to grow in a pre-planting ritual known as “chitting”. But if you’ve missed the chitting boat, fear not—the first rule of potato growing is that chitting is optional.

Potatoes come in three categories divided by their planting time. First earlies, which should ideally have been sown in late March, and second earlies, which can be sown up to mid-April, will certainly benefit from being chitted. But with main crops you can comfortably get away with un-chitted spuds if you get them in the ground before the end of the month. They won’t have the head start of their chitted rivals, but they’ll still produce an ample crop.

The most popular way of growing potatoes is to dig a trench between 12cm and 15cm deep, add some good compost to it and place your tubers in at about 40cm apart. If you have chitted, you need three of four shoots of around 2cm to 3cm in length pointing upwards from each potato, so rub off the excess shoots before they go in. Cover the spuds with soil—you can also sprinkle some fertiliser on top if you want to give them some extra energy—and wait for the shoots to emerge.

Those first shoots will ideally need covering once they start poking through as they’ll be sensitive to cold blasts of weather, so “earth up” by dragging soil from the sides of your spud rows over the shoots. Potatoes are a thirsty veg, so keep them well watered during dry spells and as the weather warms up they’ll start to grow with extra vigour.

It’s important to earth up a few more times, dragging more soil to cover the stems to form a raised ridge. This will ensure your potatoes grow underground preventing them from turning green.

 

Harvesting

If you’ve followed the correct planting times then your first earlies should be ready to dig up in June and July, when the flowers open. Second earlies will be a month later while maincrops tend to be ready from late August through to October.

With maincrops you should wait until the leaves start turning yellow. Chop the foliage down to soil level and wait for a week or two before digging—you can then allow them to dry before storing them if you’ve got a bumper harvest.

For those with limited space, spuds can also be grown in large containers—in the past we’ve had harvests from all sorts of containers from rubbish bins to an IKEA bag. The growing rules are the same, but you’ll probably need to be a bit more vigilant with watering.

 

Three varieties to try

Potatoes grow easily and it’s tempting to stick any old spud you have lying around into the ground for an even cheaper harvest, but proper seed potatoes are certified disease-free which makes buying them a much more sensible option. Here are three main crop varieties well worth trying…

 

Sarpo Mira

A red skinned potato developed in Hungary to be resistant to blight.

Expect big yields and a tasty, floury spud that stores well.

 

Pink Fir

These knobbly potatoes are becoming more popular with shoppers due to their multi-purpose use in the kitchen—from salads to roasties—and, of course, their delicious taste.

They’re a good cropper and grow well in containers.

 

Highland Burgundy Red

If you fancy something a little different then seek out some of the more unusual heritage potatoes available.

They can be a bit less reliable, but we have had good results from Highland Burgundy Red, a potato with bright red skin and burgundy flesh that makes great chips and pink mash.