Seed potatoesPosted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Tips
If you grow potatoes, now is the time to make plans and decide which varieties you intend planting this year. If you’ve never grown potatoes and have the space, give it a go. Nothing beats the flavour of freshly lifted, home grown potatoes – a world apart from any that you are likely to buy in a shop. When planting potatoes it is important to use ones referred to as ‘seed’ potatoes which are different from supermarket spuds in that they are produced by accredited suppliers to be disease-free.
Which varieties to choose
The humble potato is perhaps the most versatile vegetable when it comes to cooking: think mash, roasted, baked, chips, salad – the choice is yours! Before buying seed potatoes, decide what you intend doing with your crop when harvested and plant accordingly. Seed potatoes are classed as early, second early and main crop varieties which give an indication as when in the season the crop will be ready to lift: I generally harvest my first spuds – always a joyous occasion! – in late June and leave the main crop until August or September. It is possible to leave some varieties of main crop potatoes in the ground until well into the autumn, but my experience is that tiny slugs seek them out and have a feast, so beware.
Based on which potatoes have done well in my patch of land, my favourite varieties are ‘Rocket’ – a reliable first early with great flavour when eaten boiled as a ‘new’ potato; ‘Charlotte’ – a second early with beautiful waxy flesh which is lovely in salads; and ‘Desiree’ – main crop for super ‘reds’ for mashing or as a Boulangère dish. I also grow the wonderfully named ‘Pink Fir Apple’ which although generally classed as a main crop, can be harvested when the knobbly spuds are still small with a delicious nutty flavour. That said, I am always open to suggestions as to other varieties to grow and my list of possibles for the coming season includes ‘Casablanca’, an early variety recommended by an allotment friend, as well as one of the blue fleshed beasties (‘Violetta’ or ‘Salad Blue’ perhaps) for a bit of zing.
Once you have bought your seed potatoes, they need to be ‘chitted’ – a wonderful gardening term for encouraging shoots to develop in order to give the potato a head start once it is planted. I use cardboard egg trays for the purpose, each tray holding about 15 seed potatoes, the peaks and wells perfect for stopping the potatoes rolling around and keeping the end with the most ‘eyes’ pointing upwards. I put the trays in a frost-free, well-lit spot (our spare bedroom). Chitting has been the subject of much debate over the years, opinions divided whether to chit – or not, the general consensus being that it is important to chit early varieties and a good idea with main crop varieties. I’ll be planting my seed potatoes when the shoots are about 3cm (1in) long, mid to late March as a rough guide – more on this in due course.