It’s almost time to grow new potatoes

Potato plants
Potato plants

GARDENING: Readers' questions and a whole host of horticultural jobs from Brian Kidd

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What about growing some new potatoes?

Early potatoes can be planted in the garden at the end of March in Portsmouth, but in mid April ‘over the hill’ because of the risk of frost.

New potatoes are grown from early varieties bought as tubers from garden centres. These are set in old egg boxes to keep them upright and kept in a light place which is frost-free so that shoots can grow from the tips of the tubers.

The potatoes are planted in soil which was dug the previous autumn when well-rotted manure or compost was added.

The tubers are planted 12-15in apart in rows 24in apart. A string line is set out on the soil, then fertiliser scattered along at a rate of 4oz per yard run and raked in.

The tubers can be planted 5-6ins deep using a trowel, but better results are guaranteed if a trench is taken out using a draw hoe.

This takes time and is hard work too, but increases the yield because the soil is well broken up as work proceeds.

Once the shoots emerge, the area is hoed to remove weeds and the soil is drawn up along the rows so that ridges are created.

The baby potatoes are borne on underground stems within the ridges. It is important to hoe up again four weeks later, adding the same amount of fertiliser.

This will ensure none of the new potatoes are allowed to reach the light. They must not be green because green tubers are poisonous.

During mid-June the flowers will appear. Leave them for a fortnight and begin digging the crop. A lot of gardeners feel around the soil and remove just a few tubers the size of an egg, then allow the plants to continue.

But when flowers appear, this is the time to use plenty of water. Crops can be doubled in a month if plenty of water is applied.

In small gardens, three tubers can be grown in a growing bag on edge. Simply place it against a wall or fence, slit the edge, puff up the bag like you do with a pillow, then use a trowel to plant the potatoes at the bottom of the bag and keep well-watered.

This is the cheapest way of growing them, but potato planter barrels and containers also give good results.

Lots of people are having a go because new potatoes taste just like they did when you were young!

The worst problem is a disease called Potato Blight. This is a fungal disease which attacks from June onwards, but can be prevented by spraying the foliage with Bordeaux Mixture dissolved in water.

When the fungal spores land on the leaves, the copper in the product burns them and the disease can’t enter the leaves.

Buy Bordeaux Mixture when you see it because it flies off the shelves when mentioned in The News.