You can never go wrong with a good potato. The rest of the world seems to agree, as potatoes are the fifth most produced crop in the world, behind staples like sugar cane and rice. It’s popularity and versatility even made it the first plant ever to be grown in space! A true farm-to-table feast would be incomplete without a slew of garden-grown potatoes in all their fried, baked or mashed glory, and they can be easily produced in your own backyard.
Potatoes are an easy crop that can be grown all year round. The first crop is planted in August or September for digging up in December, and the second in January to be ready for eating through winter.
For a harvest of hearty potatoes perfect for winter stews, plant your seed potatoes early in the new year. Growing a new crop from those forsaken sprouted potatoes at the back of your fridge is possible, but they could potentially carry diseases to the rest of your vegetable garden so it is best to buy fresh seed potatoes from reputable suppliers like Hadeco or Living Seeds.
Whether grown in a pot or bed, potatoes need full sun and will survive in almost any soil as long as it is well enriched with compost. Plant the tubers 30cm apart at a depth of about 10cm, with the sprout side facing upwards. Add some soil around the stem once the shoots have gained some height and keep building up to form new tubers. The tubers cannot be exposed to sunlight as they become green and inedible, so be sure to keep watch of these fast-growing shoots and add more soil when needed.
Although they may seem sturdy, potatoes do need some TLC while they are growing. The shoots can be brittle and break easily, and critters can make their way to the tubers if the soil mound cracks. The plants need to be watered about twice a week in the early growing stages, but this can be reduced as the plant grows. When watering, try to apply the water to the soil as wet leaves are susceptible to fungal diseases.
Your potatoes are ready to harvest in winter, once the foliage has died. Using a fork, dig into the soil and lift out the entire plant, or use your hands and lift out the remaining potatoes. Take your time and make sure you get them all, as leaving any tubers in the ground can cause them to rot and poison the soil. They are also an invitation to unwanted pests and rodents, so take them out as soon as they are ready and store them in a dry place. There is no harm in harvesting all of your potatoes all at once, as potatoes can last a few months without any problems if stored in a cool, dark and ventilated place (but not in the fridge!). Now all that’s left is to enjoy!
For more on potatoes and other fruits and vegetable, get the latest issue of Grow To Eat here >