By Kate and Len Lucas
Usually planting potatoes starts in the early part of the year. So here we are as autumn approaches doing exactly the opposite. And if you time it right, you could be digging up your own potatoes near Christmas.
This article is not for those who know how to grow potatoes because we bet they know more than we do about how to do it.
Most stuff about proper potato growing involves, double digging, how much nitrogen they need as well as how to avoid scab, to chit or not to chit and do you have an unending supply of horse manure? And we really would like to know if horse manure is a fashionable garden item in 2022. We may answer that later in the year.
We are not trying to win a potato competition here but simply to introduce a very simple idea about how to make a start with one of the most rewarding things you can do, which is to eat something you have grown yourself.
Potatoes are usually and properly grown from “seed potatoes” and you find them arriving in garden centres very early in the year. These seed potatoes are grown in parts of the country where potato diseases are very low to nil. So the seed potatoes you buy are disease free and referred to as “certified”.
We aren’t going to wait because we can experiment with what we might already have in the kitchen and if you like the results then go for it properly in the new year.
Here’s a technical bit: potatoes are usually divided into “earlies “and “main crop”. Or more simply, new potatoes and those used for making chips or roasts. We will stick with new potatoes for now.
If you have some Jersey Royals in the fridge or any new potatoes in the cupboard, just pick out three and place them on a plate in the daylight. Those potatoes are alive and will be pleased to be in warm air as they slowly turn green, grow some sprouts and start to go wrinkly. Here’s another technical bit, it is going green because it is producing chlorophyll and the sprouts are the buds breaking into life. It is going wrinkly because the fairly insoluble starch stored in the potato is being converted into soluble sugars which drive the life processes, which the potato is using up so it can produce more potatoes.
Next, find yourself a fairly big plastic pot or even a fairly heavy-duty rubbish sack and fill it about a third full with compost. When the sprouts are about a quarter inch long put the three potatoes in the container and gently push them into the compost so you can’t see them.
As the shoots push through the compost, keep adding more compost on top until you are about six inches below the top. The reason for constantly topping up is that new potatoes can form near the surface of the soil and will turn green in the light unless you cover them up.
Potatoes are not hardy, so as the weather gets colder and colder, cover them at night with anything that will stop the frost from getting at them. Keep it watered and once the foliage starts to turn yellow and die down, you can have a look to see how many freshly grown potatoes you have.
For those of you who do grow vegetables, you will know that all sorts of pests and diseases can be troublesome and these potatoes of course didn’t start off as disease-free seed potatoes. We have done this successfully in the past and it has been great fun.
If you did want to have a go and see what happens we wish you every success and with a bit of luck, you can create more of what you started out with and have new potatoes on Christmas day.