Growing your own potatoes from seed potatoes is something anyone can do and with a little care and nurturing reaps very satisfying rewards, saving you money and giving you a home grown gem towards a healthy meal. If you need help choosing the right variety of potato, click here
Step one: Chitting
The first thing you need to do is Chit your seed potatoes.
The term ‘chitting’ means exposing potato seeds (or tubers) to light so they develop short green sprouts before they are planted into the ground to produce a crop. It’s a similar method to growing seedlings in a propagator before planting out, effectively giving the growing process a head start to achieve better results.
Here’s what to do:
- Take your potato seeds and lay them in a shallow box, tray or egg box. If there are any buds showing already, make sure these are facing upwards
- Place the tray in a light, cool and frost-free place – a windowsill is ideal if you have the space, otherwise a porch, utility room or outhouse etc
- After two to three weeks, shoots will begin to appear. Different varieties of potato can chit at different speeds (see below on the different varieites available)
- After the sprouts are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long, the seed potatoes are ready to plant in the ground (usually from March/April once the ground is ready)
- Before planting, rub off all but two to three of the largest and strongest sprouts, this will produce a better crop
Step two: Planting instructions
When? Late March through to mid-April is the traditional time to begin planting out seed potatoes that have been chitting and should now have sturdy, dark shoots around 1.5-2.5cm (0.5-1in) long. If you will be growing varieties from each of the three groups of potatoes make sure you space the planting a few weeks apart. Start with the earlies in March or early April, second earlies several weeks later and the maincrop varieties a few weeks later again towards the end of April. This will allow you to harvest them in the same order from June onwards and will prevent you from having to protect all of your varieties from frost.
Soil? Potato plants will happily grow in most soils as long as it has been well dug with plenty of manure added to help retain moisture. The soil should be clear of any rocks and stones and any large clods of earth to allow the potato tubers as much room as you can provide for them to grow.
How? The traditional method of planting out seed potatoes is into flat-bottomed trenches around 12cm (5in) deep, spreading a light layer of well-rotted garden compost or fertiliser along the bottom before planting. Place your seed potatoes into the trench with the shoots facing up. Any small shoots that have developed near the base of the potato can be rubbed off as they will divert energy away from the main shoots at the top. Potatoes are all planted at the same depth but the spacing will depend on the varieties. Early varieties should be spaced 30cm (12in) apart with 45cm (1 ½ ft) between each row (to allow space to earth up the developing shoots). Maincrop varieties should be spaced 38cm (15in) apart with 60cm (2ft) between each row.
Container grown spuds – Containers specifically designed for potatoes are available with openings at the base to allow you to harvest small quantities at a time rather than having to dig out the entire container but a large dustbin is equally as suitable.
Initially add some gravel or grit to the base of your container to provide some drainage to prevent water from sitting at the base. Add some high quality garden compost until the container is a quarter to half way full. As the shoots grow you will earth up with several more inches of compost until your container is full. Depending on the variety and size of your container you will only need to plant several potatoes into your container, typically 3-5 seed potatoes per bin. The benefit of using a container for potatoes is that they are much easier to protect from frost and you don’t run the risk of blight as you are using fresh compost. You also have no need to worry about crop rotation as the soil is replaced each year.
Step three: After care
Once planted, water frequently and the potatoes will begin to develop leafy shoots. When they reach around 10cm (4in) the leafy shoots can be earthed up by carefully drawing soil from in between the rows and covering the stems to their full height. Earthing up encourages strong root development, boosts tuber production and will bury weed seedlings that threaten to take over.
The main concern in the early stages of growth is frosts. Loose covering of straw can help to insulate the ground but tends to be rather messy so many gardeners favour cloche tunnels or horticultural fleece.