It's time to buy seed potatoesPosted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Tips
Potatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow, as long as you have space and are prepared for a bit of hard work with a spade and fork. Growing potatoes is a good way of regenerating an piece of neglected land as you end up digging the soil three times - once when planting; once when covering the leafy growth of the developing potatoes (‘earthing up’); and a third time when you lift (dig up) your precious crop. I have a friend who, soon after taking on a much-neglected allotment plot, popped his seed potatoes directly into holes cut into a patch of ground covered in scrubby turf and weeds and by the autumn, had an area of perfectly tilled soil in pristine condition.
All home grown vegetables taste wonderful, but in my opinion, nothing comes close to the wonderful flavour of a potato which has been freshly lifted from the ground, so if you are new to veg growing and haven’t planted potatoes before, now is the time to get going.
Seed potatoes – what are they?
Rather than simply taking a spud from your vegetable rack, sticking it into the soil and expecting it to produce a decent crop, you need to buy what are called ‘seed’ potatoes. These are potatoes which have been specially grown to produce a true variety and if they have come from an accredited supplier, will be certified as being disease-free at the time of purchase.
First earlies, second earlies and maincrop
These mysterious terms are used to indicate when you can expect to begin lifting your first wonderful potatoes – so, varieties labelled ‘first early’ (1E) should crop first, followed by ‘second earlies’ (2E) which generally produce a higher yield; with ‘maincrop’ (MC) coming last, maincrop varieties producing robust spuds which, once lifted, will keep well if stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Potatoes described in shops as ‘new’ are generally first early varieties. The term ‘salad potato’ is applied to potatoes which crop like second earlies, but again, are treated as ‘new’. I do hope you’re not too confused by all this! Trust me…it’s all pretty straightforward really and an experienced Spud Grower will be only too pleased to tell you more and offer advice.
Once you have bought your seed potatoes they need to be ‘chitted’, a delightful term which basically means encouraging a few sturdy shoots to grow on each seed potato before it is planted. I use discarded cardboard egg trays for this purpose as they hold the seed potatoes snugly, each separated from its neighbour. If you buy a few different varieties, use a different tray for each and don’t forget to add a name tag or you will get in a muddle as one variety of seed potato looks very much like another. Place the tray/s in a cool, light place (the back bedroom perhaps?) and watch the shoots develop over the coming weeks until planting time in early to mid-March.
To chit or not to chit? Much has been done into the relative benefits of chitting and deal written about the results, but I always chit all the varieties I buy and usually get a good crop.
Which varieties to sow
There are lots to choose from and space doesn’t allow for a list, but here are a few suggestions:
First earlies: Foremost - large tubers with waxy flesh and great flavour unlike some first earlies.
Second earlies: Kestrel – a good cropper with great flavour, floury flesh so makes lovely mash.
Salad: Charlotte - very reliable oval, waxy potatoes and pretty slug resistant.
Maincrop: I usually plant either Desiree or Cara, both ‘reds’ with great flavour. They store well. I always plant Pink Fir Apple – which produce knobby tubers, best lifted early and cooked with their skins on as they are a fiddle to peel. Pink Fir Apple is a waxy variety with a nutty flavour; versatile uses and good in salads.
….are a good place to buy seed potatoes. As well as having a good selection of potato varieties on sale, you can usually buy small quantities which will enable you to try out new varieties. Advice is also freely available. To find a Potato Day taking place near you, take a look in a local newspaper, community noticeboard, or ask Mr Google.