Whether you have a large or small plot or even a space for a pot or bag somewhere, anyone can grow their own potatoes. Potato crops can produce a lovely abundant harvest and provide you with homegrown vegetables throughout the season.
If you are a regular visitor to the garden centre, you would have noticed that lots of different varieties of seed potatoes would have started showing up in the shops around the end of February.
Growing potatoes is a great way to start out with vegetable growing since they’re one of the easiest vegetables for beginners. Give the potato plants a bit of water, full sunshine and some feed and they will reward you with a good crop.
If you’re new to vegetable gardening, having your own potato plot can be a very rewarding experience. There is nothing quite like the potato “treasure hunt”, when you carefully dig the ground at harvest time, to find your beautiful grown, fresh potatoes. One seed potato will produce many potatoes and different types can vary in size.
Potatoes get used for so many different recipes in our house and can be so versatile, I like to be sure we plant plenty of them so we get a big crop. I dedicate an entire bed to potatoes each year and also grow them in potato bags which are great for people who have even less space or only have perhaps a courtyard or even just a balcony.
Potatoes can be grown in many different ways. If you have a plot to grow them in the ground, that’s great. However, potatoes can also be grown in buckets, sacks, pots and even grow bags. You can still achieve a reasonable harvest from growing potatoes in a small area.
You can grow salad potatoes which are usually waxy versions or floury maincrop types that can be used in such recipes as these potatoes dauphinoise or to make the best roast potatoes ever. There is no end to the culinary use of potatoes so they are really are a useful vegetable to grow.
What You Need To Grow Your Own Potatoes
- Seed Potatoes of your choice. You will usually find these in garden centres and sometimes DIY stores. You may even find them in some larger supermarkets that also stock plants and gardening equipment.
- A Robust Spade for digging your trenches.
- Gardening Gloves. Always a good idea!
- Your choice of potato sack, pot, grow bag or bucket if you are planning to grow them in a smaller space.
The Best Type of Fertiliser for Potatoes
Firstly, it is a good idea to test your soil and see what already lies there. Potato beds that haven’t been rotated will most likely be quite depleted of the nutrients that potatoes need to flourish. Additionally, if you have a well draining soil that is more chalky than clay, the rain will also contribute to the depletion of nutrients.
Applying a generous amount of manure to the soil before planting is a good way to begin the vegetable growing season for all plants, just be sure it is well rotted first. New Manure will burn plants due to their high levels of nitrogen, salts and ammonium. New manure can also contain harmful bacteria, organisms and unwanted weeds. Dig your well rotted manure into your soil along with a sprinkling of potash. Alternatively, dig in some garden compost to enrich your soil.
Throughout the growing season, potatoes do best if they’re given a feed that is lower in nitrogen and phosphorus but high in potash. The reason being, is that the first two will feed the foliage and root system, while the potash will feed the potato tubers, helping them grow larger in size and be more abundant. You can buy specialist potato feed from most garden centres.
Preparation of your Potato Plot
You can begin to plant your seed potatoes around March to May depending on the type you are growing. First earlies in late March, second earlies in early to mid April and maincrop varieties in mid April to late April. If you live in a warmer part of the UK, you can even plant maincrop potatoes in July, which will be ready for Autumn and Winter harvests.
Potatoes need a sunny site that isn’t prone to late frosts, which can damage new foliage. If you expect a late frost, protect any new growth by earthing up or with a blanket fleece.
After your soil has been fertilised, dig your plot over, removing any large stones and breaking up the clumps of dirt. Remove any weeds that you find and dig some trenches about 12cm deep and leaving about 60cm in between. Place your seed potatoes with the eyes or shoots facing upwards a distance apart from each other (roughly 30 cm). Cover the potatoes with the earth to fill the trenches in again. Water them well and leave until the plants appear.
When the plants appear and grow to about 20cm is when you need to “Earth them up“. Using the extra earth from your trenches, gradually place the earth up the haulms to about 15cm, which will protect the growing tubers from frost and the sunlight – which will make them go green and inedible if exposed.
If you are growing various varieties of potatoes, I recommend labelling and dating your trench rows when you plant them. This is helpful to remind you of what you have planted and where, which will give you an idea of when you can begin your harvest.
Different Varieties of Potatoes and When to Harvest Them
There are many different varieties of potatoes that fall into 3 categories. First earlies, Second earlies and Maincrop. If you plan to grow your potatoes in a small space, I recommend choosing a first or second early variety or a mixture of both. Maincrop will do much better in the ground.
1st Earlies are usually ready in 10-12 weeks while the plant is still flowering and blossoming. Usually around June or July.
2nd Earlies will be ready in roughly another 4 weeks, in July or August, again, the plant will still have green foliage and flowers.
Maincrop potatoes can be harvested from August to October, you will note that the flowers have gone and the foliage has begun to turn brown, this is a good indicator that your potatoes are ready. Maincrop potatoes will store well for a few months. You can leave them in ground to begin with and harvest as you need them, however if the weather is particularly wet or cold, I recommend harvesting them all as they could rot in the wet soil and attract slugs who will eat them.
Growing Potatoes in a Bucket or Bag
If you don’t have a lot of space, you can still grow your own potatoes in a bucket, pot or sack and it’s done in a very similar way to growing them in the ground.
The key is to not overcrowd the bag and to protect the growing potatoes from the sun by earthing them up in a similar fashion as before.
You can buy specialist potato sacks online or in your local garden centre. You will notice that they usually have a hole or flap towards the base. This makes it easy to access your potatoes when it comes to harvest time, without having to empty the entire bag.
Salad varieties or early potatoes are the best types when growing in bags or small spaces.
Cover the bottom of your container with some compost that is around 10cm deep. Place the potato tubers with the eyes (shoots) facing up. Make sure they are around 30cm apart and cover them with another layer of compost that is around 10cm deep so that the tubers are covered.
As the foliage of the potato plant begins to grow, you will need to protect the tubers from the sun by adding some additional compost. Leave around 2-3cm of the foliage sticking out from the top of the soil and repeating as necessary, until your potato sack or pot has almost reached the top.
The foliage will continue to grow and blossom and you will be able to start your harvest around 10-12 weeks from planting for first earlies, usually in June or July if you’re from the UK. Second earlies will be ready in July or August. You can have a little dig around in the soil without disturbing the plant too much, to see if they’re ready yet. New potatoes will be smaller than a maincrop potato but they don’t store well, so only dig them up when you intend to use them.
Planting Potatoes FAQ
The reason for seed potatoes is that they are free from any potentially damaging diseases, which can render your beds totally useless if introduced into the soil. It’s simply better to be safe than sorry and you can ensure that you will get the most from your hard work tending to your crop.
This simply refers to roughly when the potatoes will be ready to harvest, the first earlies tend to be smaller, like a salad potato and are usually ready from the beginning of June. Maincrop will be in the ground longer, but will give you a larger potato. If you are unsure, have a little dig around and see what you can find, if the potatoes are still small then leave them for a little bit longer. First and Second Earlies are the types to choose if you want to grow potatoes in containers.
Chitting refers to a process carried out about 6 weeks before planting, potatoes are stored to grow “eyes”. This is where the plant will eventually sprout from. There has long been a debate as to whether it is totally necessary, I have tried both methods and found other factors such as the weather, feeding the crop and how much you water them really played a much more important part.
In the UK, the best time to plant is in spring from March to May but you can also plant at the end of the summer and get a crop for the winter (although you might not get as many in your harvest).
At first, it is a good idea to water the ground every 4-5 days. When the plants begin to show, keep the ground moist every 1-2 days and stop watering when the foliage begins to turns yellow and die back.
For maincrop potatoes, they will be ready to harvest when the foliage dies back. You can keep the potatoes in the ground until you need them, provided the weather stays dry. Be careful when harvesting to ensure you don’t pierce your potatoes as you dig them up. If you are planting first earlies, they are usually ready in around 10-12 weeks and second earlies in around 12-16 weeks. Have a little dig around in the soil, if you’re unsure, to see what you find.