If you don’t have much space to grow fruit and vegetables the general advice is to grow crops that are difficult or expensive to buy, or which taste better when they are just harvested. The humble spud certainly doesn’t fit the first two categories. Potatoes are cheap and easy to pick up from the supermarket. They’re also a staple of our diets and, when we’re bombarded with information about the trendiest new edibles and their superfood properties, potatoes don’t seem very interesting. So why take up valuable space growing them? Well, there’s nothing quite like digging up your own, home-grown spuds for a start. Then there’s the choice available to growers. Supermarkets rarely stock more than five varieties of potato, but take a look through seed catalogues and you’ll be amazed at what’s available. There’s the red-skinned ‘Red Duke of York’, which has a lovely floury texture and is delicious roasted, there’s ‘International Kidney’, known as ‘Jersey Royal’ when grown on this Channel island, ‘Salad Blue’ and ‘Violetta’ with purple flesh, and the knobbly ‘Pink Fir Apple’.
The start of April is the traditional time to plant out potatoes. If you bought some seed potatoes a few weeks ago they may well be chitting – sprouting stubby shoots to give them a head start when planted. Now is the time to get them into the ground. Chitting isn’t essential though, so you’ve still got time to pick up some potatoes and start growing your own.
First earlies – these tend to be best eaten as salad potatoes and are ready for harvesting about 10 weeks after planting. Plant between February and May. These are ideal for planting in potato bags or large containers.
Second earlies – again these tend to be salad varieties and they are ready to harvest after about 13 weeks after planting. They can be planted from March to late May and are ideal for container-growing.
Maincrop – these tend to produce larger tubers, which can be stored over winter. They’re perfect for roasting, chipping and mashing. Plant from March to May. They’ll take about 20 weeks before you can harvest them and tend to make larger plants, so are best grown in the ground.
Christmas potatoes – if you fancy fresh potatoes for your Christmas dinner then pop a few seed potatoes into large containers or old compost bags between early August and mid-September. Early varieties work best. They’ll need protecting from frost, so when the temperature drops bring the containers into your greenhouse.
Growing in bag
Before I had my allotment I had great success growing potatoes in old, 60 litre compost bags. Simply fill with compost to a third full. Pop in two or three tubers and then cover the tubers and water.
Make sure there are plenty of drainage holes in the bottom. As the leaves appear top up the bag with compost. It’s important to keep the tubers covered from sunlight so that they don’t turn green which makes the potatoes poisonous to eat. Keep filling with compost every week or so until you reach the top of the bag. Don’t allow the compost to dry out. When you want to harvest simply cut open the bag.