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How to Grow Potatoes at Home
What You Need to Know About Growing Potatoes
Growing your own potatoes is incredibly satisfying, and you don’t need a huge garden either. Potatoes are herbaceous plants of the nightshade family. Potato originates from South America and was introduced to Europe in 16th century. Potatoes are a rich source of carbs (starch), vitamins C and B plus are loaded with fibre and minerals. All potatoes need to be cooked before eating – that’s right, you shouldn’t eat green potatoes! The most popular potato dishes are mashed potato, chips, boiled and baked potato.
Many Christians believed that Good Friday was the best day to plant potatoes because the devil holds no power over them at this time. The soil, not the calendar, will tell you when it’s time to plant. The temperature of the soil should—ideally—be at least 10°C. Potatoes grow best in cool, well-drained, loose soil that is about 7° to 13°C. Choose a location that gets full sun—at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.
February is a great time to order and chit seed potatoes. There are hundreds of potato varieties, the types we grow in the garden fall into categories of cooking type and how long they take to harvest. Early potatoes, called first earlies, generally take around 55-70 days from planting to harvest. Mid-season potatoes, also called second earlies, take 70-90 days, while late-season (maincrop potatoes) take 90-110 days to harvest.
Early potatoes are the most delish kind and the ground is soon available for other crops. Always use seed potatoes, and obtain them from a reliable dealer every year. This may cost a little more, but it is worth the extra expense, for the plants do much better. Large seed potatoes should be cut into pieces, each piece having three eyes. All seed potatoes should be boxed up in February with the rose ends at the top, and placed in a shed to chit . Also known as sprouting, chitting forces the seed potatoes to produce buds before they are even planted, an encouragement that results in earlier and heavier cropping.They should be put in the sun on mild days so that the shoots do not get drawn up, thin, and white. When ready for planting; about the last week in March, the shoots should be rubbed off except for the three strongest. If all the shoots were left on you would get a quantity of small potatoes of unsaleable size.
There are 200 species of wild potato and over 4000 varieties that were produced via selective breeding. Here are a few of my favourite potato types:
- Maris Piper – Maincrop a great all rounder and ideal for roasting!
- King Edward for awesome jacket potatoes and mashing
- Pink Fir Apple – Late Maincrop. Love these old English heritage variety that is long and knobbly with pale pink skin
- Salad blue – Maincrop. Try something different
How to Grow Potatoes
Grow potatoes in rows with a hoe or round-point shovel, dig a trench about 6 inches wide and 8 inches deep, tapering the bottom to about 3 inches wide. Spread and mix in fully-rotted manure or organic compost in the bottom of the trench before planting.
When planting be careful not to break off the shoots that have been spared, or the growth of the potatoes will be retarded. Try planting a row or two in early March ; if you do this, however you must cover them at night with straw as a protection from frost. If potatoes are cut back by the frost, leave them, they will shoot again later on. A little mound drawn round them gives some measure of protection.
“What I say is that if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”
–A. A. Milne, English writer (1882–1956)
Set in rows—earlies 2 ft. apart, main crop 3 ft. apart. The distance between each potato should be 12 in. to 15 in. On light land set them 5 in. deep, and on heavy soil set them 3 in. deep. As soon as the new potatoes begin to form earth them up with the draw hoe to keep the light from them, otherwise they will become green and useless for eating. Potatoes are not so liable to disease if plenty of room is allowed between the rows. After the potato plants have emerged, add organic mulch between the rows to conserve moisture, help with weed control, and cool the soil.
The space can be used for catch crops during the early stages of growth. Main crops should be taken up and dried immediately the tops die back; they must not be left in the sun too long, however, or they will become green. They should be stored in a clamp until required later.
Potatoes are agressive rooting plants, as a potato plant grows it produces a main stem with leaves and flowers aboveground. Underground, tubers form on secondary stems that branch off from the main stem. Potato tubers grow in the dark so to encourage the plant to keep producing more tubers, a few inches of soil are periodically ‘earthed’ up around the base of the stem. This is typically done three to four times during the season.
Harvest Potatoes by digging up on a dry day. Dig up gently, being careful not to damage the tubers. Avoid cutting or bruising as the potatoes will rot during storage.
Potatoes should be rotated in the garden, never being grown in the same spot until there has been a 3-4 year absence of potatoes.
Potato Growing Tips
- Give your seed potato the best start by pre-sprouting or chitting them before planting
- It’s best to plant potatoes deep in trenches
- ‘Earth up’ potatoes in the morning when they’re at their tallest
- Practice yearly crop rotation with potatoes
- Potatoes store better if you don’t water before harvest