Potatoes are one of the most satisfying vegetables to grow. They are a filling vegetable and can be used as a side dish at any time. Potatoes are especially good for preparing your body for the winter to come.
To plant a crop of potatoes you’ll need to get hold of some seed or sprouting potatoes, also sold as simply ‘tubers’. Large seed potatoes can be cut into smaller pieces to make them go further. Make sure each piece has at least two ‘eyes’ and allow the cut to air dry for a day before planting.
In regions where spring’s arrival is a little slower to arrive, it’s worth sprouting or your seed potatoes. Do this up to six weeks ahead of planting, to give your crop a head start.
Shoots should poke above ground within about two to three weeks. They’ll tolerate very light frosts but are best covered over with row cover if something colder is forecast.
Once they reach six inches (15cm) tall begin earthing up your potatoes. Earthing up mounds the soil along the row to encourage more tubers to grow and to reduce the risk of light exposure, which turns them green. Use a hoe to draw up the surrounding soil around the shoots, leaving the very tops exposed. Earth up in stages like this each time the foliage reaches a similar height above soil level, and continue till the mounds are either a foot tall or the foliage above has closed over.
Remove weeds early on, but fast-growing potatoes soon crowd out any competition. Potatoes need ample moisture for all that growth though. Water thoroughly in dry weather to enable tubers to grow to their full potential, free of any cracks or hollows.
Grow potatoes with beans, cabbage, corn, eggplant. Avoid planting potatoes near cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, sunflowers, tomatoes, or raspberries. These plants are attacked by the same pests and diseases as potatoes.
You can harvest ‘new’ potatoes as soon as the plants begin to flower a couple of months after planting. Continue harvesting early varieties in stages from this point on, leaving the remaining plants to grow on until needed. This staggered approach to harvesting allows you to enjoy potatoes at their freshest and tastiest.
Maincrop potatoes are usually harvested towards the end of summer or in early autumn once the foliage has died back. Leave the tubers underground for a further two weeks then, on a dry day, lift them up with a fork, taking care not to accidentally pierce any of the tubers. Brush off excess soil, let the potatoes air dry for a few hours then store out of the light in a cool but frost-free place.
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