You don’t need a plot of ground to experience the excitement and satisfaction of growing your own delicious potatoes. People grow potatoes in everything from large pots and barrels,to old tyres, bins and bin bags or inside out potting compost bags so although you might not be self sufficient, the taste of your own potatoes makes the little effort involved worth it.
When you go to buy your seed potatoes you will either see first early , second early or main crop on the packs. First earlies are quickest to mature after planting and will produce a small but tasty crop of ‘new’ potatoes around July(about 70 days or so). Second earlies take a little longer to mature and need slightly more space but the benefits of both are that they usually do not suffer from blight as they mature before blight season begins and both can easily be container grown...my kind of potatoes!
Maincrop take longest to mature (about 160 days) and are larger plants so need more space. They are usually harvested around September when the skins are ‘set’ though there is no reason why you cannot harvest a few earlier. In this group you find all the varieties to store for winter use and these are the ones vulnerable to potato blight.
Start your potatoes off chitting in shallow boxes in a light frost free room.You will then have sturdy little green stubby shoots ready to plant out. St Patri
cks day and Good Friday are traditionally the days when we begin to sow potatoes but take note of the weather rather than the calendar and plant anytime from now to late April.
New Potatoes in containers
As already mentioned, any container at least 8inches across and 1ft deep with some drainage holes is ideal for first earlies. Place about 6 inches of soil or compost and put 2 potatoes on top. I use soil mixed with some garden compost and some well rotted manure if I have it. Cover with soil or compost mix, water and put somewhere sunny to grow. Keep your pots moist but not soaked or the potatoes will rot. Once the shoots are 4 inches high add more compost or soil to almost cover the shoots. Repeat this as they grow, never quite covering the leaves until the container is full. The potatoes are ready once the flowers have flowered or the leaves start to yellow.
Potatoes in the ground
Potatoes aren’t to fussy about soil but they don’t like cold or shady spots so if growing outside in the ground an open sunny site is ideal. Add some very well rotted manure to the bottom of the drills before you plant.
First earlies plant 30cm/ 12inches apart with 60cm/2ft between rows. Second earlies plant 30-40cm/12-16inches apart and 75cm/30inches between rows. Maincrop plant 45cm/18inches apart and 75cm/30inches between the rows.
Once the shoots emerge you must protect them from frost.This can be done by earthing them up ie covering the shoots with soil for protection. After about another 20 cm of growth earth them up again by drawing the loose soil up against the shoots.
Some more jobs for March.
Try a compost trench
Its not too late to dig a compost trench for growing runner beans and also to help feed the worms in your soil. The beans benefit from good moisture retentive material at the roots and worms feed on the decomposing vegetable matter turning the soil and improving the fertility as they work.
To make a compost trench dig down to at least a spades depth. Fill the bottom of your trench with kitchen vegetable peelings, brussles sprouts and cabbage stumps, the last of the rotting apples and some damp newspaper or cardboard. Cover with soil to deter wildlife from scavenging. As on the compost heap, never use meat or cooked food waste. Runner beans can be sown in this ground outdoors from about late May.
Seed to sow indoors now: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, french beans and melons all of which need some warmth to germinate.Continue sowing lettuce and all kinds of salad leaves. Sweetcorn does not need bottom heat but it benefits from being sown in deep pots such as root trainers or try toilet tubes! Basil loves heat and sunshine so can be grown very successfully on a sunny windowsill.
Outdoors it might be worth trying carrots and parsnips at the end of the month if the weather continues to be fairly mild .Summer cabbage, cauliflower and brussles sprouts can be sown into nursery beds in rows for lifting and planting on later. Sow turnips and spinach, peas and beans . Shallots and onion sets can also be planted now.
Seed sowing tips
When it comes to sowing seed the depth at which you sow is important. Too shallow and the seed dries out or there won’t be enough soil over it to push up against and root down successfully. If it’s too deep the seed can be too cold or won’t have enough energy to make it to the soil surface.
I find it helpful to mix up a bit of coarse sand and seed sowing compost or old potting compost and I use this in the planting holes or rows to add a bit of extra drainage. It helps to mark your rows of seed and also reduces the weed seeds immediately around your crops.
This method works well for root crops such as parsnips and carrots which hate to be disturbed once germinated. You sow 2 or 3 seeds at the one spot (station) and space each station at the recommended distance for the final spacing. When the seedlings emerge, thin to leave the best one.