How to grow potatoes.
Potatoes are the UK's most commonly eaten vegetable. Whether it's chipped, mashed, boiled or roasted, they are high in fibre and carbohydrates as well as vitamin C, B6 and potassium.
More than 400 varieties are grown in Britain, but less than 30 varieties are grown commercially. Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA) have potato day events around the country at the end of January, where they show hundreds of varieties of potatoes for visitors to examine and purchase.
They are easy to grow and other than watering and 'earthing up' they need minimal attention during their growing season, to produce a crop that will last from a few weeks in a vegetable drawer, through to the whole of the winter if stored correctly.
Potatoes prefer rich moist soil in a sunny position. They should be planted when the soil starts to warm up and is dry, typically in mid to late March/early April (depending on the weather), but traditionally at Easter.
- In late winter or a couple of months before planting, dig over and add compost or well rotted manure to the plot where you are going to grow your potatoes.
- In late January/early Feb start chitting your seed potatoes.
- In March, dig a trench 15cm (6in) deep, plant the potato tubers with their shoots upwards, 30cm (12in) apart, and space the rows 60-90cm (2-3ft) apart. Apply a loose covering of a granular fertiliser to the trench. Cover the potatoes gently with soil, trying to avoid breaking the new shoots.
- As the shoots start to emerge 'earth them up', taking the soil from between the rows and covering the plants, to protect from frost and to prevent the tubers from going green.
- Ensure they have plenty of water throughout the growing season, to make sure the tubers swell.
First earlies will be ready to be harvested when the flowers appear. Second early and maincrop can be left in the ground until needed or until September, when they should all be lifted and stored. Remove all of the top growth a couple of weeks before harvesting, this will encourage the skins of the potatoes to become tougher. If a couple of dry days are forecast, second early and maincrop can be left on the surface of the soil for the sun to dry the skins, helping them to last longer in storage.