Time to plant potatoesPosted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Tips
Those seed potatoes that you bought a few weeks ago and set to ‘chit’ in a cool place should be developing sturdy pale shoots, a sure sign that they are ready for planting out. Gardening folklore has it that potatoes are traditionally planted at Easter, but given that the dates of the Easter weekend vary widely from year to year, here is a better indication of planting times to ensure a great crop of tasty spuds.
When to plant different varieties
As we live in a milder part of the country, potatoes can be planted earlier than elsewhere - first early varieties in late March; second earlies in early April; maincrop spuds later that month. If you wish to grow potatoes in containers (large pots or special sacks), start a week or two earlier.
How to plant potatoes
Growing potatoes is a great way of clearing a neglected piece of ground, as you’ll find that you dig the soil three times – once when you plant, once when you earth up, and once more when you dig up the crop and turn over the soil – by which time, all traces of grass and weed will be eliminated. The traditional way of planting potatoes is to dig a narrow trench approximately 6” (15cm) deep, then add a layer of well-rotted manure, compost, Comfrey leaves or similar material to feed the potato plants as the tubers develop. If you are planting a number of potatoes of several varieties, digging and preparing trenches is a time-consuming task and a simpler way is to space your seed potatoes out along a row, then use a trowel and make as deep a hole as possible in well-dug ground and pop a potato in. Over the years, I’ve tried various methods of planting and the resulting crop has been of a similar quality.
If you are limited for space, a small crop of delicious new potatoes can be grown in a suitable container. Simply fill the base with 6” (15cm) of rich compost and sit a couple of seed potatoes on this; then add layers of compost as new shoots appear, just covering these until the container is filled to the top – then let the foliage grow on.
The importance of spacing
Potatoes are hungry plants and if planted too close, the resulting tubers are likely to be disappointingly small. First and second early varieties should therefore be planted 12” (30cm) apart in rows spaced 24” (60cm); maincrop varieties – 15” (40cm) apart in rows spaced 30” (75cm). Once planted, cover each row of potatoes with a shallow ridge of soil, then stand back, admire your handiwork and think of those wonderful new potatoes that you will be harvesting in a few weeks’ time. If you have never eaten a potato lifted straight from the ground, you are in for a real treat!
Caring for your precious crop
The foliage of young potato plants is very susceptible to frost, so as soon as the tips of the plants show, cover with soil. This is called ‘earthing up’ and I’ll offer more advice on this in due course.