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One Potato, Two Potato

One Potato, Two Potato

Growing your own potatoes results in great-tasting spuds. Plus it’s easy!

By Lucy Dauman

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Whether it’s for health reasons, cost, or personal fulfillment, increasing numbers of people are drawn to the idea of growing their own vegetables. It’s a great thing to do with the kids, as they are always excited to see the plants magically sprout from the ground.

Growing potatoes in particular is a popular pastime and one that gardeners have done for centuries. It’s not difficult and freshly harvested potatoes taste like none you’ll find in the supermarket.

Traditionally, spuds are cultivated directly in the soil, although you can use potato bags, sacks, or even an old water bucket – just use your imagination!

Choosing which variety to plant might seem daunting, as there are nearly too many to count. If you think of them as falling into one of three categories, it becomes easier. The categories refer the growth period:

Earlies: take between 100 and 110 days from planting to lifting (harvesting)

Second Earlies: take 110 to 120 days

Maincrops: at 125 to 140 days, these take the longest to grow

Earlies and second earlies are smaller and are sometimes called “new potatoes” (although new potatoes actually are any potato just dug from the ground), whereas maincrops are large tubers.

Potatoes sprout from seed potatoes (as shown in the picture) and you can buy the seed potatoes of your choice in your local garden center. Or you might choose to mail order them from garden and seed companies such as Johnnys, Gurneys or Vermont Bean Seed. Keep them refrigerated unless you are ready to begin the planting process.

Determine the recommended planting time for your climate. The earliest you should plant seed potatoes is two weeks before your last anticipated freeze date of 28º F. or lower. A week or two before planting, bring the seed potatoes out for the first step in the process, known as “chitting:”

Chitting. Before you take to the great outdoors you’ll need to “chit” your potatoes, as this produces a better crop. Examine the seed potatoes carefully to find the side with the most eyes, and then place them in egg cartons or trays and store in a cool place with plenty of sunshine. After a week or two, green shoots should start to appear. Once these are half an inch to an inch long, they are ready to plant, as shown in the image accompanying this article.

Trenching: You’ll need a trench in which to plant them. Mark it out with string, allowing for around 24 inches width for first and second earlies, and 30 inches for maincrops. Dig the trench into a V shape that is four to six inches deep. Spread a generous amount of well-rotted compost in the trench and work it into the soil. Put your seed potatoes on top, shoot-side up, and cover them with soil to create a low ridge.

Earthing up: Once the potatoes are about four inches tall, the leafy shoots should be mounded with soil, a process known as “earthing up.” By pushing the earth up to where the shoots come out of the ground you are increasing the length of the underground stems that will bear the potatoes. For best results, do this two or three times during the growing season at two- to three-week intervals. It also has the double benefit of smothering those pesky weeds.

Harvesting: Harvest your potatoes when the aboveground growth is still green, and usually as soon as the flowers open. Two weeks before you lift the crop, cut the growth off at ground level to give the skins of the potatoes ample time to toughen up, which makes them less prone to damage. Earlies can be lifted and eaten as soon as they’re ready, whereas second and maincrop can be kept in the ground for longer.

Finally, eat and enjoy the homegrown spuds.Bake, boil, roast or mash your delicious homegrown potatoes, and be the envy of all your dinner guests. Please note that if you want to store them, maincrop potatoes keep much better than the earlies.

Warning: Never grow potatoes in the same spot within two to three years, as this may cause disease. Instead, grow plants from a different plant family, such as cabbages or peas/beans, and rotate them with the potatoes.


Lucy Dauman is a writer based in London.

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