Friday, 2 April 2010

Potato planting

Good Friday is traditionally the day to get your maincrop potatoes in; times past, it was more often than not one of the very few days off afforded to most workers, and with the potato having becme such an important crop, it was vital that they got in the ground now. My maincrops are ready and waiting, but the ground is very wet today, so I'll see how it goes over the weekend. The first and second earlies went in a while back, and are well-mulched with a layer of old fleece and plenty of manure and home made compost (sheep's fleece, that is, some old and daggy bits I'd saved for garden use).
Planting potatoes isn't rocket surgery - put the potato in the ground, and it will grow, given sufficient moisture. Obviously, though, added manure, mulching and regular watering and feeding all go to growing a successful crop, and watching out for pests and disease, especially blight. I'm lucky to have had blight only twice in the 20+ years I've been growing them, so fingers crossed for this year. I'm not sure why that is, but it is.
There's no need really to chit your potatoes; some say it gives them a head start, but over the years I've found it makes no difference at all, and saves having eggboxes fully of seed potatoes gathering dust on windowsills until the chits appear. Neither do I cut them up, which is what some books and growers advocate.
This is how I do mine; soil is forked over with a hand fork, the potaotes laid on to it; add a layer of manure and mulching material, mixing it as you go, until the potatoes are several inches deep. If mulching material isn't too abundant, make a shallow depression in the soil and pop your tattie in there, then cover. Keep well watered, and the shoots will soon appear above ground. Protect from frost - a hard frost will set the growing back a bit, so cover with mesh, newspaper, net curtains or hay/straw. As the potato haulm grows up, keep mulching - feeds the plant and encourages more ptoatoes to form on the sides. First and second earlies are ready to harvest when they flower; maincrop are ready when they have flowered and the blossoms have died back completely and the haulms themselves begin to die back. When ready, forage for the potatoes gently - with a good mulching system, no digging is required usually - just pull it off/apart and lift out the potatoes. Use earlies immediately - they don't need to cure as do the maincrop. To do this, leave your harvested maincrops on the surface of the soil for several hours in the sunshine and warm to harden the skin , then sort and store as required. Any damaged ones need to be used immediately, only store the good ones.
Alternative methods are growing in containers and bags/sacks, etc, or in tyre stacks - all these work. We are having a challenge on the forum at the moment, to see who can get the most potato harvest from a single tuber planted in a pot - should be fun!
I try and grow some different varieties, and have a fondness for coloured ones - the purple skinned Arran Victory being one of my favourites, along with Shetland Black, Highland Burgundy and Edzell Blue. They need careful cooking, but the flavour is worth the extra effort required.
I don't have sufficient room to be in potatoes for the whole year, but they're always worth growing for the taste - a fresh potato that has been out of the ground for only a few hours with a dab of fresh home made butter and a light sprinkling of finely chopped mint is sensational, and there is little to match it.
How's your tattie planting going?

Picture is The Potato Planters by Jean Francois MIllet


Eco Gites of Lenault said...

My first earlies are in but it is now much too wet to do much at all in the veg patch. I like the idea of using sheep's wool as mulch - I might try that.

Rosie x

MrsL said...

I feel a sheep's fleece post coming on!lol