Plant your potatoes soonPosted By: rocket veg Category: Seasonal Tips
If you fancy digging up some wonderful home-grown, delicious-tasting spuds in a couple of months, now is the time to get planting. Easter is generally reckoned to be the traditional time to plant potatoes, but as Easter is two weeks earlier this year than last, there’s no rush and the recent cold and snowy weather means that the soil is still chilly. That said, I intend planting my spuds soon in order to get an early crop. If the threat of yet another cold spell (‘Beaster’!) comes to pass, I may cover the rows with fleece.
Are your seed potatoes ready for planting?
Before planting, seed potatoes should be ‘chitted’. (If need be, search out my previous article about this.) I bought my seed potatoes in early January, laying them out on cardboard egg trays which have been sitting on a table in a cool room in the hope that some sturdy shoots will develop – which they have. Keep an eye on them: if left, the shoots will put on rapid growth and are seriously weakened as a result, a bit like finding a forgotten potato at the back of your vegetable rack, the spindly white shoots trailing onto the floor!
How to plant potatoes
There are several ways to plant potatoes. Try asking a couple of fellow gardeners what they go about it and you’re likely to get conflicting advice, but then that’s true of many aspects of gardening! I’ve tried various methods – digging a narrow trench and lining the base with rich compost and organic matter to give the developing tubers a boost; plunging a trowel as deep as possible into soft soil to create a hole and popping a spud in.
Everything changed a few years ago when I was lucky enough to acquire a clever gadget specifically devised for planting potatoes. It belonged to my father in law who grew up in a tiny village in the Northamptonshire fens and whose family had laboured on the land for many generations, working long hours in the bleak landscape for the wealthy owners of the farms in that part of the country. Various members of the family had also cultivated small parcels of land on the edge of the village, growing vegetables for their own use, and I guess that one of the family was clever enough to make a simple tool to take the backache out of potato planting. The design is simple and clever – two long handles at the end of which are two hinged metal ‘jaws’ which close to form a cup with a blunt bladed edge. Place a seed potato in position, push the cup deep into loosened soil, lever the handles apart and the potato is deposited in the ground. It’s a joy to use and I can plant a row of potatoes in a matter of minutes.
Having got the potatoes in the ground - what to do next
Once in the ground, use a rake to draw a shallow ridge along the row above the potatoes. Over the coming weeks, the tubers will develop to the point when the tips of the foliage will appear along the ridge, always a satisfying sight. At this point, use your rake again and draw a layer of soil (‘earthing up’) over the foliage which not only protects the tender tips from late frosts, but will also encourage more spuds to develop along the length of the plant stem.
Growing potatoes where space is limited
If you are determined to get a small crop of delicious new potatoes but are limited for space, they can also be grown in a suitable container such as a large pot. Special ‘potato bags’ are also available. Simply fill the base with 6” (15cm) of rich compost and sit a couple of seed potatoes on this, adding layers of compost as shoots appear until the container is filled to the top. Once the flowers have appeared and the foliage wilts you will know the potatoes are ready to harvest.