Potatoes

Potatoes are the most popular root vegetable in the world – a staple part of our diet in the UK. Growing your own potatoes is easy and fun. You can grow them in a traditional vegetable patch, or in containers on even the smallest of patios. There are many different potato varieties, each of which has different characteristics.

Growing Potatoes:

Potatoes are grown from seed potatoes. Most seed potato varieties fall into one of four categories: first early, second early, maincrop and second cropping or 'Christmas' potatoes. Chitting potatoes – i.e. leaving them in a cool, sunny location to sprout, is not absolutely necessary but may increase harvest and bring it forward a little. First early potatoes are usually planted around the end of March, depending on your location and local weather conditions, second earlies are planted in early April, maincrops around the middle of April. These dates can be a little earlier in the warmer reaches of the UK. Very early potatoes can be planted as early as late February in a polytunnel or greenhouse. 'Christmas' potatoes are planted in early August and covered or moved into a greenhouse or polytunnel before any frost arrives.

Potatoes grown traditionally in a garden or allotment bed are planted in a trench around 10cm deep. Early potatoes are placed with chits upwards around 30cm apart, maincrops are spaced at 45cm intervals. As soon as shoots emerge they should be 'earthed up' – cover the plant up with soil. When it grows up to around 23cm in height they should be earthed up again to prevent any tubers growing near the surface from turning green (and poisonous) in the sunlight. Potatoes can also be grown in frames, pots or grow bags and should be earthed up in the same way.

Potatoes like a sunny position and require plenty of water to form tubers. Make sure to water consistently during dry weather, especially once tubers have begun to form. First early potatoes will be ready around 10 weeks after planting, 'Christmas' potatoes in around 11 weeks, Second Earlies in 13 weeks and maincrop in around 15 weeks, though this can vary quite a bit depending on a number of factors, so don't worry if yours take a little longer. To check to see if your early potatoes have tubers big enough to harvest, gently feel under the ground without disturbing the plant. You will be able to feel tubers with your fingers. If they feel tiny – leave them where they are.

Blight is one of the worst problems for potatoes. It is bad when summers are very wet. Quickly remove any affected leaves and do not place them in the compost. There are various organic methods of control, though trying to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place is best. Slugs can also be a pest – there are a variety of slug control methods that could help.

Planting horseradish next to potatoes can increase their resistance to common diseases. Marigolds and thyme are two other useful companion plants.

Why grow potatoes in the garden?

Potatoes are an extremely useful crop to grow and most people can grow them no matter how large an outside space they have.

Not only are they an essential component of a kitchen garden, they also have rather attractive flowers that attract pollinating insects.

Quick Facts

Latin Name
Solanum Tuberosum