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A Colourful Autumn & Spring
October 5, 2016

Potatoes – Growing Instructions

potatoes-growing-instructions

Getting Started

Greenfingers Garden Centre stocks a wide selection of common and unusual seed potato varieties. After purchasing your seed potatoes, carefully empty the seed potato contents into shallow boxes or trays. Egg boxes or apple trays are ideal. Protect from frost and store in a cool area.

Two weeks before you want to plant your early potatoes, you should move your potatoes into a light area of about 10 degrees Celsius to produce a strong, thick sprout and making sure that they are rose eye upwards. The potatoes will turn green when exposed to the light, but don't worry, as this is normal. This is called Chitting. There isn’t really much point in chitting maincrop varieties but it’s recommended with earlies to give you a head start on the season. Remember to protect from frost!

Soil Preparation

Spending a bit of time by preparing your soil in advance of the growing season will stand you well. The better your soil, then the better your crops will be and this goes for all your vegetable growing. To get tips on how to choose the right location and improve your soil, please real our article on Growing Vegetables - The Ultimate Guide Part 1.

To get the best from your potato crop, they like deep, fertile soil with a 5.5 pH approximately. Greenfingers Garden Centre can provide you with soil testing kits if you are unsure of your soil pH. Locate your plot in full sun and sheltered, so that your crop is not exposed to strong winds and not susceptible to low lying frost pockets.

Planting First Earlies

First earlies, which include varieties such as Homeguard & Duke of York, can be sown in mid March to mid April and are small crops that mature fast, about 90 days, allowing you to sow a second crop later in July.

Your potatoes should be planted in drills that are 24"(60cm) apart from each other in your drills. Always make sure that the eyes are facing upwards and planted at a depth of between 4" - 6"(10cm - 15cm).

Planting Second Earlies & Maincrops

Second earlies, plant early April, are slower to mature(110 days) and can be harvested between July and September. Recommended varieties include Queens and Orla.

Maincrop, plant mid to late April, take about 135 days to mature and can be harvested from October onward. Recommended varieties include Kerr’s pink, Golden Wonder and Records.

Your potatoes should be planted in drills that are 28"(70cm) apart in each row. The potatoes should be planted 12" - 15"(30cm - 37.5cm) apart from each other in your drills. Always make sure that the eyes are facing upwards and planted at a depth of between 4" - 6"(10cm - 15cm).

Crop Care & Harvesting

Earthing up

When your potato plant shoots are approximately 20cm high you can begin to earth up around them. Earthing up is basically covering the growing shoots with soil. This can be dome about 3 times over the growing season and has a number of benefits so it is worth doing. Benefits include:

  • Frost protection. The shoots of early potatoes can be damaged by frost so earthing up will protect them.
  • Green potatoes are poisonous. When potatoes grow, they push up though the soil and become exposed to light tuning them green. Earthing up protects them from light exposure.
  • Blight protection. If your crop gets affected by blight, then the spores can be washed down the plant and damage the tubers. A good layer of soil will act as a barrier.
  • Weed suppression. Weeds compete with your potatoes for nutrients so if you have less weeds then you will have a better yield.

Blight

Keep an eye on local weather forecasts as they usually give warnings about the likelihood of blight conditions.  However, you are unlikely to get blight before July so you should be fine with the early varieties. Blight is common during warm humid weather and wet periods in the late summer. The symptoms you can watch for are dark brown blotches appearing on the leaves. This is followed by white fungal spores developing around these lesions, on the undersides of the leaves, and further lesions develop on the stems. The result is that leaves and stems rapidly blacken and rot causing plant collapse. Another problem is that the spores are released on the wind and quickly spread to infect surrounding plants. Spores may also be washed down into the soil where they can infect potato tubers causing a red-brown rot directly beneath the skin.

There are two approaches to blight control. Either choose disease resistant seed potatoes or you can spray your crop with a protective fungicide. Begin spraying this potato blight treatment from about June, particularly when periods of wet weather are forecast and spray again after a few weeks to protect any new growth. If you notice an attack early you can just remove the affected leaves but if the attack is severe and persistent you should remove and destroy the entire plant. The IPM Potato Group's website has an extensive list of common varieties. By clicking on each one you can learn more about the varieties cropping season, blight & disease resistance, cooking type and storage expectancy.

Harvesting

Once the plants foliage has died back, you can harvest the potatoes. Waiting for this will give you the biggest and best potato crop yields. The browning foliage can be cut to the ground, then wait 10–14 days before harvesting to allow the potatoes to develop a thick skin, but not too long as the potatoes may rot. Harvesting should be carried out on a dry day, by digging up gently so not to puncture the tubers. To allow the skins to cure and to keep longer, freshly dug potatoes should be allowed to sit in a cool, dry, dark place. Brush off any excess soil but don't wash then until you are ready to use them as this will shorten their storage life. "New potatoes", ones that have been harvested early for their small size and tender skin should be eaten within a few days of harvest.

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