Posted: Friday 4 July 2014
by Kate Bradbury
I've harvested the first of the year’s home-grown new potatoes. It got me thinking: what’s the best way to grow potatoes?
I marked the beginning of the month by eating the first of the year’s home-grown new potatoes. I made a warm potato salad, to which I added broad beans, spinach, mint and a red onion, plus a handful of capers and two vegetarian sausages. Only the capers and sausages weren’t home-grown – it was a very satisfying meal indeed.
But I was surprised to have had a potato harvest at all – the plants are still very small and those I harvested were from tiny spuds left in the ground from last year, missed when I dug the plot in March. I’ve no idea of the variety or whether they were earlies or maincrops, but they were pink (first early ‘Duke of York’?) and some of them were quite large. I didn’t plant them, I didn’t feed them, I didn’t earth them up and I didn’t water them, but I harvested enough for three giant portions of warm potato salad. Who says allotmenteering is hard work?
It got me thinking, and reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad on the weekend: what’s the best way to grow potatoes?
In an ideal world, I would have a rich, fertile soil incorporated with organic matter such as well-rotted horse manure and garden compost. But I took the allotment on in March and simply worked with what I had – a tired soil previously used only to grow potatoes. I dug three trenches, lined them with grass (which apparently prevents potato scab but I’ve no idea if this is scientifically proven), laid out the spuds, covered them with soil and forgot about them.
As the plants grew, I earthed them up to prevent the tubers from greening, but I didn’t bother watering them. ‘Only water when the plants start flowering’, say the books, which is what I’ve always done. But it was so dry that the plants in one row yellowed and died, so I got the hose out.
My dad was appalled that I’d watered my spuds. "No, no no," he said. "You don’t water potatoes." He grows his in muck and is merely grateful when it rains. Watering just leads to leaf growth at the expense of the tubers, says my dad; the fact that my plants are small (and yellow?) means nothing at all – it’s no indicator of what’s going on beneath the surface.
My allotment neighbour Halil has even less faith in my potato-growing attempts. I made the mistake of telling him I’d planted the tubers in grass. He shook his head. Fertiliser. FER-TIL-ISER. His potato plants are lush and green and tower above mine. But I wonder what’s going on beneath the surface.
I’m not ready to investigate whether my potatoes have yielded anything worth eating – they’re maincrops so I won’t touch them for another month, and I still have the odd rogue spud from last year to keep me in potato-and-broad-bean salads for a while. But I’m happy with my old-fashioned, organic and slightly hippy approach to growing spuds. I like planting the tubers in a little bed of grass.
But I’m still wondering: what’s the best way to grow potatoes? Does you plant the tubers in grass, or muck or fertiliser? And when do you water them?
05/07/2014 at 22:42
I always thought that potatoes need a lot of water. Certainly the potato growers in Lincolnshire seem to use water cannons to irrigate throughout summer.
I had a really good crop two years back when it rained all summer.
05/07/2014 at 23:17
We dug up a plant today, they should be ready according to T&M but they're still little more than marbles. Rain and time. Lots of.
05/07/2014 at 23:47
If you add too much water you get less flavour; Water is cheap when translated into heavier potatoes.
In our own gardens most of us go for good flavour rather than heavy tasteless crops. Just compare the taste of a home-grown tomato versus a shop-bought one.