Growing potatoes

by Lila Das Gupta

After I took the Christmas decorations to the shed this morning - always a tinge of sadness - I stopped off at the greenhouse to harvest the last of our Christmas potatoes.

Freshly harvested potatoes, covered in earthI love the snow we're having this week, but it does rather put paid to gardening. Harsh weather has made me all the more thankful for my lovely greenhouse - the only thing that's tempting me to the  bottom of the garden at the moment. After I took the Christmas decorations to the shed this morning - always a tinge of sadness - I stopped off at the greenhouse to harvest the last of our Christmas potatoes.

We planted a variety of spuds in pots and compost sacks when we got back from holiday at the beginning of September (these are especially chilled seed potatoes for autumn planting). When growing potatoes in containers it's a good idea to add some granular organic feed at planting time, since most composts only contain enough nutrients for around a month. When the frosts came the potatoes were moved into the greenhouse for protection. This year, the best of the crop by far - and one of my favourite potatoes, was 'Red Duke of York'. I'll certainly be repeating the experiment again next year in an attempt to grow as much of my Christmas dinner as I can.

Some large garden centres are already selling their new season of seed potatoes, but I usually like to wait a little and get together with friends so that we can coordinate what to buy. 2kg is a standard bag, but that's a lot of potatoes to plant if you only have a small amount of space. Some allotment shops buy in seed potatoes then break up the packs so that you can buy smaller amounts. Similarly, potato fairs like the one held at Garden Organic in Coventry every year are well worth visiting. You can chat to experts and also buy a wide variety in the quantities you require.

A few years ago I conducted an experiment on the allotment after talking to Alan Romans, the potato guru. He reckoned that potatoes don't have to be chitted to grow well and should actually be planted without the buds having appeared. So, I planted one lot of chitted potatoes and had planted another group of unchitted potatoes planted at the same time. It didn't seem to make a huge difference to the yield (the unchitted lot just matured a little later), but in the following year I experimented with getting larger potatoes. With one group I left the chitted buds as they were, with the other I put a collar made of newspaper around each one so that only the top bud could develop. Planting with just one or two buds certainly makes a difference to the size of potatoes you harvest. 

My family tends to prefer more conventional varieties like 'Maris Piper' and 'Pentland Javelin', but I always sneak in a few 'fancy' varieties. This year we are trialling 'Blue Danube' for the first time (also known as Adam Blue). The skin on this early maincrop is dark, purplish, blue as the name suggests, but the flesh is white by contrast. Blue skinned varieties are great for bringing a bit of glamour to the dinner plate -they make striking looking oven chips or potato wedges: leave the skin on and cut to the desired shape then dry off in a tea-towel before cooking. Spread them on a baking tray with some olive oil (not the green virgin kind, the yellowy kind of mild oil) then sprinkle with salt.

What's your favourite potato variety?

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Talkback: Growing potatoes
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Gardeners' World Web User 08/01/2010 at 22:13

I agree, I can't even think about gardening at the moment; without a pneumatic drill my parsnips will have to stay in the ground! I do however plan to go to Potato Day at Garden Organic at the end of the month, so maybe inspiration will hit me. Last year I grew Charlotte, Rocket, Nicola and a couple of others (can't remember what though) and the Charlotte did the best of the lot. I dug some of them as new potatoes and then left the rest in as main crop. My parents swear by them and that's all they ever grow now. They eat them as new and maincrop potatoes and also leave some in the ground that they have only recently harvested. The problem is that although I prefer Charlotte, if I go to Potato Day I will come back with all sorts, as usual, as it's all too easy to get carried away. I am however determined to try some Sarpo Mira as my plot neighbour grew them this year and they were untouched by blight.

Gardeners' World Web User 08/01/2010 at 23:04

in the north west its only worth growing 1st earlys or salad crop i grew arron pilot pentland something + one other its in my diary but thats in the greenhouse and its too cold to go and look stil useing some still ok and stored well. weather has put a hold on things although im waiting for seed deliveries by post all my planing is done just need some fine weather or my planed heating cost will go outa skew

Gardeners' World Web User 09/01/2010 at 11:13

Chantal I grew Nicola too last year and though the potatoes were affected by scab they were absolutely delicious. Ditto Kestrel but they were unblemished. I shall try Nicola again for sure - but how do I prevent scab? Ian

Gardeners' World Web User 09/01/2010 at 14:09

I honestly like every potatoe variety i have tried and could not pick between them. I was wondering though if i want an early mid, late and christmas lot of potatoes which different varieties do you suggest? Also the trick to getting bigger potatoes, do you actually cut the other buds off and leave one on? Then wrap newpaper round or do you just wrap newspaper round.

Gardeners' World Web User 09/01/2010 at 18:23

If you want to get bigger potatoes, just rub off excess sprouts. We all grow maincrop potatoes in Glasgow with no problems, so you should have no difficulties in the North West of (England)?

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