Growing Seed Potatoes
Potatoes are our basic vegetable here in the UK and growing them is fairly straight forward; as long as you stick to a few basic rules, growing potatoes is not that difficult.
Here at Beetham Nurseries, we have one of the largest selections of First Early, Second Early and Maincrop potato varieties in the area. This comes into us from January until March/April time.
If you've never grown vegetables before and you're wondering what to grow as your first vegetable, then potatoes are an excellent choice. They grow in practically any soil type and are a good first crop as they break up the soil ready for other crops. If you're struggling for space or the space that you do have is unreliable e.g. it's waterlogged or heavily flagged, then potatoes can be grown in containers.
The first thing to decide is the type of potato that you wish to grow. If you're looking to beat the expense of new potatoes once they hit the shops, then a good choice would be to choose a first or a second early. If you're wanting to produce a heavy yielding crop to provide food, then a better choice would be to go for a maincrop.
Chitting is the process of letting potatoes develop shoots, i.e. sprouting; essentially you are letting the potato age by exposing them to light and warmth. After a period of time, the eyes of the potato will start to sprout green/purple knobbly shoots. If the shoots you have are white, then chances are that the seed potatoes you have are not receiving enough light or you're growing potatoes from a supermarket/shop. It's important to chit potatoes because it allows them to get a head start before you put them in the ground; this not only ensures that your potatoes are sprouting before planting but essentially decreases the amount of time you have to wait before they crop.
To start the chitting process off place the seed potatoes in a warm area with some light, either in your house, a garage, a porch, shed or greenhouse if you have one. Temperatures above ten degrees are ideal. Place potatoes, with the most amount of eyes facing upwards, if you don't have many, then you can use egg boxes. If you have a large amount, then you can use scrumpled up newspaper and seed trays.
Once there are three or more good sized sprouts/chits on your potatoes, then it's time to plant them in soil. If your potatoes have more shoots than this then it would be a good idea to take off the excess as this ensures that you will get bigger potatoes when they crop. If you don't remove the extra chits then your potato plant will produce more potatoes but they will be a lot smaller because the energy and resources available will be split between the additional chits.
If planting your potatoes in a garden, allotment or vegetable plot, then you will be planting straight into the soil. Whilst potatoes will grow in practically any soil, they will do so much better if the soil is mixed with rotted organic matter such as farm yard manure and it is loose/fine. As a rule of thumb, you should never grow potatoes in the same patch for a period of three years. This is to avoid your potatoes developing diseases that they are susceptible to, to prevent the depletion of nutrients used by potatoes from the soil and to decrease the amount of pests that may become used to feeding on a crop in that area.
In the garden, vegetable plot or allotment, plant your potatoes in rows, roughly 6" deep with rows spaced 24" apart (Earlies) and 30" apart (maincrops). In each row, place each potatoes 12" apart (Earlies) and 15" apart (Maincrops). Cover over with soil, if your soil's not of a fine quality then be sure to cover with manure or compost first.
If your planting your potatoes in containers, then fill your container to about a third with well rotted manure and compost mixed together. Place your chitted potatoes on top and cover with about four to six inches of compost/soil. Once the first shoots start to show, cover up with the same amount of soil again until your container is full, then leave to grow.
In both cases it's important to be aware of frost because potatoes are very susceptible to frost. In general it's advised not to plant potatoes before the threat of frost has passed. Once you've planted your potatoes, if there is a threat of frost, then keep covering the leaves or any greenery that has come through the soil to prevent frost getting into the plant.
The time to harvest will vary depending on the variety that you have chosen. First and second earlies tend to be ready to harvest as soon as the plant has stopped flowering. Take off the top of the plant and remove the potatoes you need, you can leave the rest in the compost for a period of about 4 weeks.
If you have grown maincrop potatoes then they will be ready when the plant starts to drop back, wither and die away. Remove all of the potatoes and leave them to dry out in a dark frost free area before eating or storing.