From earthy new potatoes and bite-sized salad varieties, to floury bakers and roasters, the humble potato remains the nation’s favourite vegetable. If you’re a potato aficionado, there’s a huge number of exciting potato varieties you can grow that you’ll never see in the shops.
How to grow potatoes at home
Prepare the soil by digging and removing weeds, and then dig straight trenches 12cm deep and 60cm apart. Plant seed potatoes 30cm apart and cover them with soil to fill the trench. When the shoots reach 20cm tall, use a rake, hoe or spade to mound soil up around the bases of the shoots, covering the stems half way. This is called earthing up.
More expert advice on growing potatoes:
Follow our guide to growing potatoes, below.
Planting out seed potatoes
How to grow potatoes – chitting seed potatoes
Grow your own potatoes from ‘seed potatoes’, which are small potato tubers rather than actual seeds. You can buy seed potatoes from late winter. Don’t be tempted to grow potatoes from old potatoes from the veg rack, as they won’t produce reliable crops.
Before planting, you need to ‘chit’ your potatoes. This involves letting the potatoes grow shoots, which will give you a bigger potato crop. Place seed potatoes in trays or egg cartons with the end that has the most eyes uppermost. Stand in a cool, light spot until 1-2cm long shoots have formed. This could take up to six weeks.
Watch Monty Don’s video guide to chitting potatoes:
Home-grown potatoes do well in all types of soil, but the richer the better, so dig in plenty of well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost. An open, sunny site is best.
While maincrop potatoes grow well in the ground, early or salad potatoes will also do well in containers. Polypropylene potato growing bags are designed especially for this purpose and are handy if you’re short of space. However, you can also plant potatoes in an old compost bag, with similar results.
When growing potatoes in the ground, plant earlies and salad types in March, 12cm deep and 30cm apart, with 60cm between rows. Plant maincrop potatoes later, in April. These need to stay in the ground longer and require more space to produce a decent crop. Plant them 12cm deep and 38cm apart, with 75cm between rows. Plant potatoes with the shoots (or ‘eyes’) facing upwards.
Watch our No Fuss video guide to planting potatoes, with Alan Titchmarsh:
Growing potatoes: caring for your crop
How to grow potatoes – earthing up potatoes
Water potatoes regularly, especially during warm, dry spells, and keep the soil weed free. As the potato plants grow, use a spade or hoe to cover the shoots with soil to stop the developing tubers becoming green and inedible. This is called ‘earthing up’. Leave the top few centimetres poking out the top. As plants continue to grow you will need to earth them up again.
How to grow potatoes – harvesting potatoes
Depending on the type of potato you are growing, you’ll have crops from May to October.
Lift earlies and salad potatoes when the plants are still flowering and the potatoes are about the size of a large hen’s egg. Cut the potato plants (also known as haulms) to the ground, then gently prise the plants out of the ground with a fork. Dig up the potatoes as and when you need them.
Leave maincrop potatoes in the ground until the leaves turn yellow and die down. Choose a dry day to dig up your crop. Cut the plants to the ground and dig up your potatoes, discarding any damaged ones. To harvest potatoes grown in pots, simply tip out the contents and enjoy the rich – and easy – pickings.
Watch Monty Don’s video guide to harvesting new potatoes:
How to grow potatoes – how to store potatoes
Home-grown potatoes, particularly maincrop potatoes, will store well for many months in a cool but frost-free place. Only store perfect tubers, removing any showing signs of damage, and don’t wash them before storage. All light must be excluded to avoid potatoes turning green and poisonous. Hessian or thick brown-paper sacks are available for the job. Check crops in store regularly, removing any rotten ones.
Preparing and cooking potatoes
How to grow potatoes – baked potato
Wash and scrub potatoes before frying, boiling, baking, mashing, roasting or sautéeing – this has to be the most versatile vegetable!
Health note: never eat potatoes raw. Green potatoes contain a chemical called solanine, which they develop when exposed to light. It can cause severe stomach upsets.
Growing potatoes: problem solving
How to grow potatoes – potato blight
Slugs can be a problem, especially if growing potatoes under black plastic.
Potato blight is a fungal disease, which turns foliage yellow with dark patches and causes the tubers to rot. Grow a blight-resistant potato variety to avoid the problem. You can also cut the potato plants down at the first sign of infection, as the fungus will not have reached the tubers by that stage. Then harvest the tubers as soon as you can.
Never grow potatoes in the same soil year after year as this could lead to a build up of pests and diseases. These include potato eelworm, which causes stunted growth and poor cropping.
Growing potatoes: potato varieties to try
How to grow potatoes – potato varieties to try
- ‘Annabelle’ – compact, small tubers with white skins and golden flesh. Disease resistant
‘Charlotte’ – yellow skin and flesh, with a lovely flavour. Remains firm when cooked
- ‘Cherie’ – delicious red-skinned salad variety with waxy flesh
- ‘Milva’ – yellow flesh, perfect for boiling. Good yields
‘Pink Fir Apple’ – an odd shape, but good flavour
- ‘Blue Danube’ – with purple skin and white flesh, this new variety if resistant to blight
‘Cara’ – round, waxy and drought resistant, it bakes well
- ‘Isle of Jura’ – an excellent all-rounder, with large crops from late summer. Disease resistant
‘Nicola’ – yellow skin and flesh, small, oval tubers, sweet flavour
- ‘Setanta’ – drought tolerant and great for roasting and baking