Caring for Potatoes

Potato varieties fall into three main categories, First Early, Second Early and Maincrop.

First Earlies form potatoes and bulk up very early, and lifting usually starts in June, July and August, depending on when they were planted, and the haulm is still green.

Second Earlies are lifted in August and September.

Maincrop varieties are lifted in the autumn when the haulm has died down. It is the Maincrop varieties that are long keeping, and are relied upon for winter storage.

SOIL

Because of the amount of growth potatoes make in a season, they require adequate food supplies, water and good drainage. An open position is essential. A light loamy soil is considered ideal, but light sandy soils and heavy clay soils are satisfactory, provided liberal quantities of farmyard manure or compost are incorporated during winter digging. Compost or peat can also be used as a mulch after planting. Growmore or any other suitable compound fertilizer can be applied at the rate of 3-6 oz. per square yard, and raked in prior to planting.

SEED

When choosing potato ‘seed’, it is important that ‘Certified Seed’ is planted; such ‘seed’ has been inspected and grown under rigid conditions, so that it is free from the many diseases to which potatoes are susceptible.

CHITTING

Seed potatoes are purchased during February/March and sprouted in trays, a process known as ‘chitting’. Sprouted or chitted tubers will give slightly earlier crops.

PLANTING

Planting usually takes place in late March or early April, a trench 8 ins deep is made with either a draw hoe or spade. First Earlies are planted 1 2 ins apart with 2 ft between the rows.

Maincrops will need more room to develop – 15 ins between the tubers, and 36 ins between the rows. If some of the tubers are on the large side, they can be cut in half providing there are two or three healthy shoots on each half. Potatoes can also be grown under black polythene. This is a popular method because it reduces almost all cultivation. Instead of making a trench, a hole is made with a trowel and one tuber is planted at each station. The black polythene is then placed over the row. It is important to ensure that the polythene is anchored into the soil, by placing the edges of the polythene into slits made with spade. In May when the shoots start pressing against the polythene, make slits at each station with a pair of scissors and draw the foliage through.

EARTHING UP

It is now considered unnecessary to earth up potatoes, but habits die hard and many gardeners still carry it out. Earthing up consists of drawing soil up around the developing foliage using a hoe. This is done two or three times during the growing season. It is a useful process on heavy soils when it will improve drainage and it ensures the tubers are well covered, thus preventing them turning green and also reducing the effects of a bad attack of Potato Blight.

PESTS and DISEASES

Potato Blight is one of the most troublesome diseases of potatoes, and can be troublesome on Second Earlies and Maincrops. There is no cure for the disease but if the potato foliage is sprayed in the early and mid-July with Bordeaux Mixture this should prevent an attack.

Common Scab. This manifests itself as scurfy patches on the surface of the potato. It is’ only skin deep and the eating qualities are not affected. The problem is most common on light soils under dry conditions. Prevention – dig in plenty of compost and do not lime prior to planting.

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