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platedPotatoes are one of those vegetables that need little introduction. Very few people don’t know what they are, as they are a staple in most diets these days. However if you are one of the few, potatoes grow under the soil surface from the roots of the plant which swell to produce a number of tubers. These tubers can be as small as peas and in extreme cases as large as a rugby ball. They are shaped from round through to oval on to kidney shaped, some are knobbly and others are smooth. The flesh is generally creamy white but the skins can be brown, red or even blue. Potatoes make a great addition to a meal, they add bulk and are filling. There are hundreds of tasty recipes which make use of the humble spud but the simplest are the best and one of my favourites is to have it baked in it’s jacket with a knob of butter and some cheese.

Whilst Potatoes need a fair amount of space they are easy to grow and can be grown successfully in pots as well as in a vegetable patch. So, when thinking about what you want to grow potatoes should be high on your list, the next question is what variety to grow. There are two phrases you need to be familiar with relating to varieties of potatoes, earlies and main crop, after this there are hundreds of different varieties to choose from. You may also come across second earlies which are basically main crop lifted early and are essentially a larger new potato.

Early varieties produce the waxy new potatoes that appear in shops from May. They tend to be no bigger than a large hens egg, have flaky papery skin that scrapes away easily with a knife when dampened. As they have a waxy texture these potatoes make great salad potatoes and taste great boiled or steamed in their skins, served covered in butter and chopped parsley. Main crop potatoes take a little longer to mature, tend to be larger than early varieties and have tougher skins which, depending upon how you plan to cook them, we usually peel away before they are cooked. Main crop potatoes store well over winter providing tasty potatoes well into the spring when the early varieties are ready to be lifted. They tend to be fluffy or flowery in texture once cooked so are ideal for roasting, mashing and baking in their jackets. If boiled or steamed flowery potatoes will start to disintegrate in the pan so care needs to be taken not to over cook them.

Each potato plant can grow enough potatoes to feed a family of 4 for a week if you eat potatoes every meal and have a good crop. As with any plant it will provide a better crop if it is looked after well, in the case of potatoes space and water will benefit them, they will grow in almost any soil type.

potatoes chittingTimings for the best crop

  • Seed potatoes need to be chatted before you plant them, particularly if they are earlies. This means laying them out in a light,frost free place and allowing them to shoot, this can take up to 6 weeks.  Start chitting your seed potatoes between February and April.
  • When the shoots are 2-3 cm long you can plant the seed poatatoes out, March to June. Pile soil around the plants, as the shoots grow to cover any potatoes growing near the surface.
  • Your crop should be ready to start harvesting between June and October depending upon whether they are early or main crop potatoes.
  • Potatoes are half hardy so frost in spring may damage the new shoots and ruin your crop, the autumn frosts will kill off plants but your potatoes will be fine left under ground, check for slug damage when you lift them thouigh.
  • It is possible to grow an extra late crop in pots in the green house if you want new potatoes for Christmas day, use the tiny sprout sized potatoes you find when you lift your main crop, they are too small to peel anyway.
  • If you dont have much space potatoes grow well in a bag, bucket or planter.

Time to enjoy potatoes!