Grow Guide: Potatoes
The potato is a cool-season vegetable that ranks with wheat and rice as one of the most important staple crops in the human diet around the world – especially Ireland! So why not start your own homegrown supply? Potatoes withstand light frosts in the spring and can be grown throughout most of the country in the cooler part of the growing season.
There are more than 100 varieties of potatoes. White-skinned (Queens, Home Guard) and red-skinned (Roosters). Garden varieties offer better taste, texture, and cooking quality for home use.
Potatoes will grow in just about any well-drained soil, but they dislike soggy soil. Because they do all their growing underground, they can expand more easily in loose soil than heavy, compacted, clay soil that keeps plant roots from getting the air and water they need. If you add organic matter (leaves, hay, peat-moss) to the soil, especially at planting time, you’ll be able to ease the hardship of tough earth.
The season will be an impact on the kind of variety available at any given time. Early, midseason, and late varieties all may be planted in March or early April. Planting too early in damp, cold soils makes it more likely that the seeds rot before they grow. Your earlies (white-skinned) will be in season from May to July. Your late-season varieties (red-skinned) can be planted as late as July and will be in season from September. Roosters are best for winter storage.
How to Plant
Potatoes in frames and pots are not difficult to grown, but they do take up a good deal of valuable space. Potatoes are started from ‘seed pieces’ as opposed to a ‘true seed’. These seed pieces may be small whole potatoes or potatoes that are cut into halves or quarters. Be sure that there is at least one good “eye” in each seed piece. Small, whole, certified seed potatoes are often the best choice for home gardeners – which can be found at your nearest GroMór centre.
Seed pieces need to be planted at least two-hands width apart and covered 1-2 inches of soil. If planting in pots, potatoes are set low in roughly an 8-inch pot and then only half-filled with soil at first. Later as they grow, more soil is added. It is usually recommended to plant one tuber in each pot.
If you’ve a very sheltered border with a south aspect, you can make the first planting of early potatoes (late February). They will need to be watched carefully and you will probably have to protect the young shoots with dry straw, but if you are successful there is no reason why you should not be digging new potatoes early in June. The first week of April is when you should start to plant your second early and late potatoes. These crops grow more heavily than the earlies, therefore, require more room.
In May, your early potatoes should be pushing their shoots through the ground so draw more soil around them to protect them. A few degrees of frost will injure these shoots and there can be no certainty about the weather until May is well advanced. In June, the earthing up of all March/April planted potatoes must be completed during this month. The earliest potatoes planted at the end of February will probably be ready for dogging. Lift one or two roots and see what kind of crop there is. There is no point in waiting for the tubers to mature. So long as they are big enough to be used lift them, but only as you actually require them for use. It is a great mistake to dig too many early potatoes at once for they lose quality rapidly when out of the ground. August will be the month to lift your second earlies. September will be the time to lift your potatoes for storage, depending on weather and disease.
- Whilst waiting for your potatoes to sprout, store them in an egg carton in a cool dark place (a cupboard or the utility room works nicely)
- When planting your tubers – the majority of the eyes should be facing upwards
- Rummage around the dirt a few weeks after your plants flower – the first few potatoes will be ready at this time, and you can pluck or twist them off the root
- You will be able to tell when the remainder of your potatoes are almost ready by observing how much the foliage has died back – once the leaves and stems are completely yellow, your potatoes are ready
- Stop watering about two weeks before you harvest
Tubers: or also known as seed potatoes, are grown for the purpose of replanting and are not meant for consumption. You can save your own potatoes from season to season for replanting purposes.