Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are one of the most popular and versatile of all the garden vegetables. An important food crop and key ingredient of many British recipes. Very easy to grow and generally trouble free, if good quality "certified" disease-free tubers are used.
Soil Type: A deeply dug, well-manured soil is best.
Conditions: Full sun.
Ease of Cultivation: Very easy.
Type: Root (stem tuber) vegetables.
When to Sow: March to April.
Harvest Season: Early summer to autumn (depending on variety).
To get a head start, place seed potatoes (tubers) on trays in an airy and frost-free place to enable them to sprout (chit), a few weeks before planting out. Keep them in the light but out of direct sunlight. Although you can still plant them without chitting, they will just take a little longer to mature.
Potatoes are greedy feeders so work plenty of organic matter or compost into the soil to improve its texture and provide nutrients. They prefer a slightly acid soil so do not add any lime.
For the earliest potatoes grow in a south facing border, preferably sheltered by a wall. Do not plant before mid-February. In heavy soils plant after mid-March.
Plant First Early and salad potatoes in late March. Plant them 4in (10cm) deep at 12in (30cm) intervals in rows. Space the row about 2ft (60cm) apart.
Plant Second Early potatoes from early to mid-April, 4in (10cm) deep at 12-14in (30-36cm) intervals in rows 28-30in (70-75cm) apart.
Plant Maincrop potatoes from mid to late April, 4in (10cm) deep at 16-18in (40-45cm) intervals in rows 28-30in (70-75cm) apart.
The usual planting method is to draw (scrape out) a trench about 4in (10cm) deep with a draw hoe and place the potatoes in it. Then draw back the soil from the sides to cover them.
TIP: If you have comfrey, place a layer of comfrey leaves on the bottom of your trench before planting. This will quickly rot down to and help to fertilize the crop.
Potatoes are tender plants and a late frost can quickly kill the emerging foliage, therefore keep an eye on the weather in your area and don't be tempted to plant too early. If the leaves start to show and frost is forecast, protect the plants with horticultural fleece or draw a little soil over them with a hoe.
Potatoes grow really well in deep containers and specialist potato grow bags/sacks. Simply place a good layer of soil in the bottom of the container or bag (with the sides initially rolled down) and cover the tuber with 4in (10cm) of soil. As the plant grows add more soil to earth it up, until the leaves reach the top of the bag (unrolling the bag as it grows up).
All varieties should be earthed-up as they grow, by drawing the earth from the sides of the rows over the plants. This is mainly to prevent tubers near the surface going green, which is toxic, so these would need to be discarded. It also has the advantage of increasing the yield.
Apply a good dose of general purpose fertilizer after a month's growth. Water well in hot dry weather, as an irregular water supply can reduce the yield.
Protect from slugs and wireworm, which bury underground to find the tubers. Nematodes are a very effective defence for these pests and one of the best organic controls. If slugs are a problem in your area, grow cultivars resistant to slugs.
Potato blight or late blight (Phytophthora infestans) can be a problem in prolonged wet weather, causing rotting. Early varieties are less affected as they are usually harvested before blight becomes a problem.
Harvest earlies after the plants have flowered, usually around 16 weeks after planting. Dig up a few plants at a time, leaving the rest to continue growing and increase.
Harvest maincrop varieties after the tops have died down, usually after about 22 weeks. Maincrops can be dug up in whole rows once they mature and stored. Choose a dry sunny day and leave them on the surface for a few hours to harden the skin, which will help them store better.
Ensure you dig all the tubers out once the crop has finished, including any tiny tubers, as these are bound to sprout again next year.
Store maincrop potatoes in dry hessian or specialist paper sacks with air holes. Exclude all light or the tubers will turn green and become inedible. Store at around 5°C and protect from frost. Check them regularly. Discard or use up any damaged ones first, as one rotten tuber can quickly spread through the whole batch.
Potatoes are a very versatile vegetable in the kitchen. They can be peeled and boiled, mashed, roasted, fried or cooked in their skins. Different varieties are suited to different cooking methods. Therefore the desired method of cooking should be considered when choosing a variety to grow.
There are hundreds of varieties to choose from - far more than you will ever find for sale in the supermarket. Different varieties grow better in certain areas and soils than others. So ask your neighbours what does well in your area. If you are still undecided what to grow, buy several smaller packs of around 10 seed potatoes and try different types until you find what you like.
Don't plant potatoes purchased from food stores. Although they will grow, more often than not they will produce a poor crop or one that is subject to disease. It is best to buy good quality seed potatoes that have been 'certified' as disease-free.
Note: Seed potatoes are available from garden centres in the spring.
Potato 'Arran Pilot' a traditional variety producing white fleshed tasty tubers of a firm waxy texture. Ideal as a salad or new potato. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Potato 'Casablanca' produces smooth white tubers that are excellent for boiling or chipping. Good disease resistance. Available at Gardening Direct.
Potato 'Duke of York' is a classic first early that produces pale yellow tubers with a dry mealy texture. A flavoursome, good quality, general purpose potato. Available at Gardening Express.
Potato 'Estima' produces firm, moist, pale yellow fleshed tubers. Excellent drought tolerance. Available at Gardening Express.
Potato 'Foremost' a popular new potato with slightly waxy firm white flesh. Good flavour. Available at Gardening Express.
Potato 'Maris Bard' produces smooth, white tubers. A very early, heavy cropping variety with good drought and scab resistant. Great for boiling as a salad potato. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Potato McCain 'Premiere' is a heavy yielding variety with oval tubers that are pale gold and thin skinned. The yellow flesh has a waxy creamy texture with a delicious flavour. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Potato 'Pentland Javelin' a white skinned new potato with a soft waxy-textured. Ideal for boiling as a salad or new potato. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Potato 'Rocket' a heavy cropping, first early, that provides round, white skinned and waxy fleshed tubers. Excellent disease resistance. Ideal in containers and potato bags. Available at Van Meuwen.
Potato 'Anya' attractive long, pink potatoes with a nutty flavour and creamy flesh smooth tubers. Available at You Garden.
Potato 'British Queen' (RHS AGM Awarded) a heritage variety with a high yield. Excellent shape, good floury texture and delicious flavour. Particularly good for roasting. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Potato 'Charlotte' a popular second early that makes an excellent salad potato, with firm creamy flesh. Average tuber size 1.5in (4cm). Available at Van Meuwen.
Potato 'Elfe' produces smooth, oval, golden tubers with a creamy texture and a sweet buttery flavour. Good all rounder. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Potato 'Kestrel' a favourite second early variety with consistent sized tubers with attractive, smooth skins and violet eyes. Good pest resistance. Ideal for exhibition growing. Available at Gardening Direct and Gardening Express.
Potato 'Vivaldi' a high yielding, versatile, all rounder that can be boiled, baked, mashed or roasted. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Potato 'Cara' produces oval-round, pinkish, red-eyed tubers with soft moist flesh, which is excellent for baking or chipping. Good disease resistance and drought tolerant. Stores well. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Potato 'Desiree' a highly popular red tuber, with pale yellow waxy flesh. Excellent drought resistance. Useful for a wide range of recipes including roasting and baking. Available at Van Meuwen.
Potato 'Golden Wonder' one of the best varieties for roasting, frying, boiling and crisps. A rich floury taste. Good slug resistance. Available at Gardening Express.
Potato 'Kerrs Pink' fine tubers of pale skin and cream flesh. Ideal as a salad potato and for roasting or mashing. Available at Gardening Express.
Potato 'King Edward' an excellent flavoured form with oval, white skinned tubers, pink eyes and creamy white flesh. Excellent for boiling, baking, roasting, chips and mash. High resistance to pests and diseases. Available at Gardening Direct and Gardening Express.
Potato 'Maris Piper' a high yield, early, main-crop variety with excellent floury creamy-white flesh. Perfect for chips or mash. Available at Gardening Express.
Potato 'Pink Fir Apple' (RHS AGM variety) a tasty heritage variety that produces long, knobbly, pink skinned tubers with yellow, waxy flesh, and a distinctive nutty flavour. Great for boiling, chipping or as a salad potato. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Potato 'Rooster' a tasty red skin potato from Ireland. An excellent all rounder, ideal for boiling, baking, chipping and roasting. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Potato 'Salad Blue' a vigorous maincrop with attractive blue/purple flowers. The unusual blue, floury flesh is ideal for baking, roasting, mash or chips. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Potato 'Setanta' a late maincrop variety that provides a high yield of medium sized, red skinned tubers with medium-yellow flesh. Good drought tolerance and resistance to pests and diseases. Available at Van Meuwen.