Potatoe Article

Potatoes by Peter Stowe (London Rd Allotments)

Perhaps the ideal crop to consider when clearing ground for cultivation. They are easy to grow and, whilst appreciating a deeply dug, good soil with plenty of home made compost, will nevertheless still produce a crop in most soil types. They should not however be grown in the same ground year after year but rotated annually with other crops. Ideally do not plant potatoes in the same ground for at least three years to prevent possible pest/virus contamination in the soil. Four years is better.

There are two main types of potatoes, earlies and main crop. Earlies are traditionally grown for early harvesting when small in June and July when the skins are not set on the plant. The crop yield is not particularly high but the taste!!!!! Earlies can be subdivided into first and second early varieties. The second early crop is larger and is often used as a bridge to maintain production between first early and main crop. They are usually picked July August. Main crop varieties can also be subdivided into early main crop and late main crop and are usually harvested in late August to early October, after the green shoots (haulm) have died down, dependant upon type and the date of initial planting.

Plant early potatoes approx one foot apart in rows between 18 inches and two foot dependant upon whether first or second early. Plant main crop potatoes 15 inches apart with approx 30 inches between rows. Plant approximately 5 inches deep. There is now some argument whether chitting, a process involving permitting shoots to develop on individual seed potatoes, is advantageous in the development of the plant. Seed potatoes are placed in a suitable container, such as an egg box, in the light and allowed to chit, speeding up the start of development of the plant when planted. Generations of gardeners have used this method especially concerning early potatoes.

When the haulm emerges from the ground and is about six inches tall earth up each row with a draw hoe, rake or similar into a ridge shape to leave just the tops showing. Continue this process as required until the ridge is a maximum of 8 inches high. This helps to protect the plant against early frost, improve drainage and helps control weeds. .

There are well over a hundred differing varieties of potatoes on sale in this country but only comparatively few of these are on sale in individual garden centres and allotment site offices. If buying seed potatoes loose select those about the size of a bantams egg. The variety to choose is dependant on your taste and crop requirements. Some potatoes are specifically suited to salad use, chipping, baking or roasting etc, others are more general purpose. Some varieties also seem less prone to slug attack, which can be a major problem in heavier-garden soils particularly on main crop types of potato. Individual tastes vary but it may be worthwhile to ask neighbouring plot holders what type they grow successfully or have experienced problems with, and also experiment with varieties of your own choice.

The time to actually plant your potatoes depends largely on where you live. On this allotment the recommended planting time for first early potatoes is around the third week in March. Earlier planting can be successful, (hence earlier picking) but so much depends in this case on the severity of frost and the temperature of the soil that you can lose much of the crop in bad weather. Plant second early potatoes around the first or second week of April and main crop varieties after this until the first or second week in May. Early varieties should be harvested approximately 13 weeks after planting but some of the newer early varieties claim to be ready much sooner. Main crop potatoes take up to 5 months, late main crop taking longer than early maincrop to mature. Store harvested main crop potatoes in a frost-free environment in Hessian sacks or paper bags, which exclude the light. Check regularly for shoots and do not use any potatoes that are green.