They are the staple of many a person's diet, can be roasted, boiled, mashed, baked and chipped, and are ultimately not that expensive to buy. Why grow them then? For one simple reason: taste.
I've written here about the delights of early potatoes, but whether you are growing early or maincrop the difference in taste can be tremendous. Picking a smooth new potato from the earth, boiling until tender and then serving with lashings of butter and freshly picked herbs is simply delicious (particularly with meat straight from the barbeque!). Lifting them from the warm soil and eating not 15 minutes later means that there is no loss of nutrients and no transportation costs (whether that be monetary or environmental) - they are literally fork to fork.
They are also easy to nurture once you've planted them, and if you buy the right variety can keep you in fresh potatoes for a large proportion of the year.
Timeline for growing potatoes:
- Early spring: if you want to chit your own potatoes, buy them in early spring and leave in a cool, dark place so they can sprout.
- Late April/early May: if you are looking to plant potatoes this year buy them already chitted from garden centres or online.
- Early May: dig a trench (3-5in deep) in your veg bed. If you have comfrey growing near you (it's often by the side of the road) pick the leaves and use shears to chop smaller and line the trench generously. Simply push the potatoes into the earth or if like us you have chalky soil, use a bulb planter as this stops the stones damaging the crop. Plant them with the chitted growth pointing upwards (removing any growth facing other direction) approximately 12in apart. Rake up the surrounding soil to form a ridge over the potatoes.
- Throughout May/early June: continue to earth up the potatoes so that the shoots are just buried. This is to protect the delicate leaves in case of a surprise late frost.
- June-September: harvest your potatoes!
Four helpful hints:
- Buy blight-resistant varieties to give your potatoes a better chance; foliage blight struck our potatoes in our first year and wiped out half the crop.
- If it is a particularly dry summer it is worth giving the potatoes a water if possible; it often gives a higher yield.
- We grow Charlottes for our early potatoes and Cara for our maincrop and have had continued success with these varieties; highly recommended.
- Pay attention to the soil. When digging your beds make a little note of the insects you see as this may affect the type of potato you should plant. We have a little problem with Golden Eel-Worm which we didn't notice in our first year and when it came to harvest the ones that had survived the blight had been eaten inside out! However all was not lost and since we switched to the Charlotte and Cara varieties last year (which are G.E.W resistant) we have had fewer problems.
For more information on potato varieties, their properties and help on what to grow in your area hop over to this very handy website.
Are there any other vegetables you'd like to see a. 'How to Grow...' guide for? Please do let me know!
Eleanor is obsessed with stories. She writes for a number of online spaces including This is Your Kingdom, edits Creative Countryside, curates #aseasonalyear and teaches at Chalk House. In addition, she is currently studying for an MA in Creative Non-Fiction Writing. You'll find her roving the fields of the Lincolnshire Wolds or planning her next rural adventure.