Spuds (Solanum tuberosum) are an important staple in the garden and make a useful first crop when creating new garden beds because their expanding root system opens up the soil and leafy canopy shades out weeds. As part of the Solanacea family they are related to tomatoes and eggplants, so seasonal rotations need careful consideration. There are hundreds of varieties grown for eating and keeping qualities. We have grown Sebago, King Edward, Pink Fir Apple, Kipfler, Nicola. Dutch Cream is another lovely variety.
Potatoes are grown from small seed spuds and are clones, ie genetically identical, so the parents are the same makeup as the previous and next generations. This is why the potato blight in Ireland in the 1840s caused such disaster and death; no genetic variants existed at that time that were tolerant of the disease. Spuds can be prone to disease and pest problems so seaweed or milk sprays (10 parts water to 1 part) and companion planting can help. Comfrey, horseradish, marigold as well as corn, beans and cabbage are said to be good companions.
They key thing with spuds to to hill them up as they grow to ensure a good deep crop is produced, adding plenty of mulch and compost as you go. September is probably the earliest to plant in Newstead to avoid frosts and you can plant through til about Christmas to get an autumn/winter crop.
Autumn – Late sown spuds can be harvested. Make sure you have picked up every spud from the patch to avoid any disease carryover problems in the soil.
Winter – Prepare your bed with well dug, well rotted compost, lime and rockdust. Apply the lime in winter, before you plant the spuds and dig over the soil at least the depth of a shovel.
Spring – Source certified virus free potato seed or your own healthy seed stock. Use small spuds about 4-5cm diameter or cut spuds into pieces that size, ensuring both have at least two healthy ‘eyes’. Some gardeners sprout or ‘chit’ their seed spuds 2 or 3 weeks before planting by putting in a shallow tray, eyes upward, in an airy spot without light (your spud cupboard/bin?!) so the skin will turn green and eyes start to sprout. Use only the ones with healthy, robust shoots. Plant in trenches about 20cm deep, allow 20-25cm between spuds and 60-75cm between rows of you are growing in rows. apply compost to the bottom of the trench and cover with a bit of soil before placing seed spuds in. Begin hilling up the spuds when the plants are about 10cm tall, adding soil, compost and straw every couple of weeks to about 10cm, leaving the green leaf tips exposed. Keep up regular watering.
Summer – Watering continues but ensure it is not irrregular or the spuds will split or become mishapen. Keep hilling up every few weeks. The plants will continue to make tubers up the stem (this is why some growers use car tyres or wire mesh to grow spuds in a contained area, they add more tyres – and soil – as the spuds grow). About 4 – 5 months after sowing the spuds will be ready to harvest. Allow the crop to die back and then leave another week or two before gently digging up the tubers. Leave in the sun for an hour or so to dry the skins and then brush off excess dirt and store in a sack or box in cool, dark spot.
Generally – New potatoes are generally dug up whilst the plant tops are still green and the plants have just flowered and some of the lower leaves yellowed. Generally they are small and have very thin skins so will not store. Wait until the crop yellows and totally dies off before digging the rest of the crop for large spuds that will keep well. (Commercial conventional growers often kill off their crops using roundup or sprays to destroy the foliage and enable timely harvest and spuds all of a uniform size.
Eating – Depending on the variety grown, some do better for mash or roast or chipping. Bread. Au Gratin. Salad. Rosti. The skins contain large amounts of Vitamin C, so scrib your spuds rather than peel them to get more nutrients.