It’s potato planting time!
I think it’s impossible to beat the taste of homegrown new potatoes, and they’re not difficult to grow at all. In fact they’re a brilliant veg to grow with kids; they’re nice and chunky to handle when planting, the kids get to pile soil on them as they grow, and harvest time is basically a treasure hunt as all those lovely spuds are unearthed!
If you’ve got lots of room in the garden or at an allotment, you can of course grow potatoes in rows and get a really big crop, but don’t be put off if you don’t have a lot of space. You can grow potatoes very successfully in bags, and using this method is perfect for small gardens or your first efforts at grow your own. Here’s how to do it.
The first thing you need to do is buy your ‘seed’ potatoes. There are lots of varieties to choose from in garden centres, and they are usually split into ‘first early’, ‘second early’ and ‘maincrop’ varieties. As the names suggest, the first earlies will be ready to harvest soonest, followed by second earlies, then maincrops. It’s really up to you which variety you choose; just decide when you’d ideally like to harvest your potatoes, then check out the growing times on the bag to help you work out which variety to go for.
Once you’ve got your seed potatoes, you need to put them in a cool, dark place until they start to sprout; this is often referred to as “chitting”. You might find that the ones you’ve bought are already sprouting, this is fine and has actually saved you a bit of time! If not, pop them into a plant saucer, shallow tray or old egg box until they look like this:
When your seed potatoes are sprouted, you’re ready to plant. All you need is your seed potatoes, some compost and a bag. You can use any large, strong plastic bag to plant them in (bin bags are a bit too flimsy), or you can buy specially designed potato planting bags, like the one we’ve used. These bags can be reused; as you can probably see ours is a bit faded and battered, but it’s still going strong after a few years of use. If you do use a plastic bag, you need to make some holes in the bottom for drainage before you start.
Fill your bag or planter about a quarter full with compost; you can roll down the top to make this easier.
Next, position your potatoes evenly in the bag, with the majority of their sprouting shoots pointing upwards. Don’t be tempted to plant too many; when growing potatoes this way 2-3 per bag is ideal.
Cover the potatoes with another layer of compost, then give them a thorough watering. Now you just need to water them regularly and let them get on with growing, until you see leaves appearing on the top of the compost. When this happens, add more compost to cover them up again; this is called “earthing up”. You need to do this for two reasons: one, to prevent the growing potatoes turning green and poisonous, and two, to increase your crop by encouraging more potatoes to grow on the buried stems. Unroll the top of the bag as you add more compost.
When you’ve pretty much filled your bag with compost, allow the plants to grow and flower. When the flowers start to die off you’re ready to dig up your harvest!
And that’s it: follow these few easy steps and you’ll be enjoying amazing homegrown new potatoes this summer. Will you be having a go at growing your own potatoes this year?