Enjoy the growing and cultivation of potatoes


Potatoes are the mainstay of the British dinner and it is a pleasure to have a meal in which your own home-grown new potatoes are included, especially if freshly dug up.  It is an easy crop to grow if you have an area of good rich soil within a non-shady site.  I always grow mine by a method I learned from an Irish gardener many years ago. 
Of course he planted his potatoes on  St Patrick’s Day (17th March) to receive his blessing!

Prepare the soil well in advance by digging it over and incorporating as much manure or compost as can be spared, as potatoes are enormous feeders.  About the third week in March, on a dry day, work the surface of the soil to kill any young weed seedlings, and to level the soil, maybe giving a light dressing of a compound fertiliser at about 2oz per square yard.  I plant on the flat (no ridges) by making holes at 4"-5" deep with a 3" diameter planting tool at   8"-12" apart (depending on variety) with 21" between rows.

The seed potatoes, in the previous one or two months, have been packed in shallow boxes in a single layer with ‘rose’ end up (ie the end with the most eyes), in a frostproof place to produce shoots. If possible this should not be a dark building or the shoots may become ‘drawn’. Shoots of 2"-3" are ideal. If the potato is larger than a hen’s egg I often cut it into sections with two shoots on each piece.

These potato sets are then carefully placed in the prepared holes, and a final raking over to fill in the holes completes my planting.  In about a fortnight the young shoots appear above the soil and then the only cultivation needed is to hoe frequently to destroy weeds.

Another dressing of fertiliser between the rows will benefit the growth when the plants are about 8" high and 8" wide, taking care to keep the fertiliser off the leaves and stems.

Potatoes suffer from a few pests and diseases:-

EELWORM  -   Rotation cropping is the answer to this pest. Growing the crop too often on the same spot encourages the multiplication of this disease. An interval of at least four years is considered the best option.

VIRUS  -   It is recommended to buy certified (Government approved) seed each year, but home saved once from certified works very well.

POTATO BLIGHT  -   These attacks, occurring about the third week in July are fairly constant on my plot. 
They cause the leaves and stems to become slimy and black, which often spreads over the whole crop. 
Chemical control is now unpopular. The spores are washed into the soil and if they come into contact with the tubers, cause them to become brown and rot. Infected potatoes should be sorted out and never stored.  If the attack is severe I leave it until all the top growth is dead and then cut it off and clear it. I find that with the varieties I grow, and the method of growing on the flat, very few tubers are affected when I finally harvest my crop for storing at the end of August.

STORING FOR WINTER AND SPRING USE   -  Lift the crop from the end of August to mid-September, during a dry spell.  Allow the tubers to dry out for a day or two and then store in a dark  frostproof place.  
Normal plastic dustbins with lids are ideal and also vermin proof.

 

VARIETIES  -   There are many varieties of potatoes to choose from, and many more suitable for a particular purpose. I grow about twelve varieties and find certain ones, not available in the shops, are ideal.

CHARLOTTE  -  If only one or two varieties are grown, this one is useful.  Good flavour, good for boiling, roasting, chips, mashing and salad.

KESTREL  -  An early one for 'new' potatoes, boiling, mashing and roasting.

DESIREE  -  Not a popular one in the supermarket, but is an ideal heavy cropping late (storing type, an excellent all-purpose variety.

LINZER DELIKATESS  -  A salad variety which I allow to mature and find it is the best flavoured variety I grow.  Boiled, mashed or eaten cold, it is ideal.  My Number One, although it is a light cropper.