Potatoes are one of the most important vegetables in our diet – it is a very humble vegetable and is easy to grow. It is very tempting to try and get some really early potatoes, so why not grow some?
Buy a bag of universal potting compost and take out two thirds of the contents. Roll down the side of the polythene bag and plant three well sprouted potato tubers about nine inches apart and five inches deep. Then, water the compost and keep the planted bag in a frost-free place with lots of light.
The new potatoes will emerge from the underground stems next June if you keep watering them. Before getting too excited about the crop, use your fingers to see if the new potatoes are large enough to eat before pulling out the whole crop.
The traditional way to grow potatoes is to set the tubers in egg boxes which are then planted in the garden during early April. Good smooth potatoes can be grown if sieved garden compost is used to cover the tubers – this takes a long time but is particularly important if exhibition potatoes are required. The tubers of early potatoes should be 12 inches apart in rows that are 24 inches apart.
Normal potatoes should be planted 15 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart. If eight to 10 rows are to be grown on an allotment, create an earth pathway about three-feet wide through the centre of the plantation because it makes spraying against potato blight easier.
Once the tubers are planted, apply a vegetable fertiliser. An organic favourite is blood, fish and bone meal applied at three/four ounces per square yard and raked into the top two/three inches of soil. This will not disturb the tubers which were planted.
When the potato shoots emerge through the soil, they are ‘earthing up’. Before earthing up, weeds should be hoed off and picked up otherwise chickweed quickly smothers the soil between the rows.
If slugs are a problem, save as much compost as possible. Then to each barrow load, mix in one pound of sulphate of potash and sieve on top of the plantation. As the slugs move through the earthing up, they will become dehydrated. The application of slug crystals will also reduce slug damage – Back To Nature, Growing Success and Nemaslug are excellent preventatives.
These do not harm birds or animals and the method of application is on the drums.
Frost will damage the growing shoots too. If it’s forecast, the rows can be covered with horticultural fleece or more soil added to the ridge of the rows.
It is well known that thick potato stems indicate a good crop of potatoes. If the stems appear to be weak, apply sulphate of ammonia using an ounce to a yard. Hoe this in and add it to the earthed up rows. Any contact with the foliage burns badly, so ammonia must be applied with great care.
During mid June the early potatoes should be ready to try. Instead of digging out an entire plant, use fingers and thumbs to remove just a few tubers which are large enough.
Top tip: The plump buds on hosta plants should now poke through the soil but this is the time that tiny slugs eat their way through the buds. To prevent this, put a generous layer of broken egg shells or sharp grit all over the soil.