Getting started with potatoes

One of the easiest vegetables to grow is the humble potato. Buy seed potatoes now and give your crop a head start.

chitting potatoes
Chitting potatoes gives them a head start when planted. Image: Martin Mulchinock.
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If you asked a keen veg grower what one vegetable a beginner should grow for tasty, abundant and easy results, chances are the humble potato would be the number one crop. Even if you are short of space you can grow potatoes in an old dustbin (with drainage) or a large planter, but if you’ve got room for a few rows in your garden, you will be handsomely rewarded.

The way to get the very best from your potatoes is to grow a few varieties that mature early, that way you’ll be harvesting them when they are still pricey in the shops and long before the dreaded potato blight gets a chance to attack your crop. It means though that you need to get started now.

Seed potatoes

It’s a bit confusing for beginners because seed potatoes aren’t seeds; they are virus free tubers (potatoes) that you plant in the garden. Don’t be tempted to plant leftover kitchen spuds even if they are sprouting; this is a sure fire way to bring potato problems to your patch. It’s much better to choose to grow some tasty early-maturing varieties. These are called first earlies because they are the first to crop each season. First earlies also tend to make smaller plants and so take up less space in the garden, an important consideration if growing space is limited.

Look out for a local garden centre that sells them loose and then you can choose just a few. It’s important to buy them as early as possible. Some suppliers sell small sample packs of potatoes too so you can plant a row or two of each. Good first early varieties include Rocket, Arran Pilot and Foremost.

If you are more experienced or have a larger garden them consider buying several varieties that mature in different months to prolong the harvest and provide fresh potatoes throughout the season. Later maturing potatoes are called second earlies, and maincrop potatoes. These will product a crop that matures later than the first earlies.

Top spuds

For great results choose Arran Pilot. It’s a great choice for the first new potatoes of the year. It’s quick to crop and is ideal to grow in large pots and containers or where space is limited. What’s more; it’s resistant to common potato problems.

It’s also easy to prepare for cooking and makes a lovely salad potato. Arran Pilot has a delicious sweet, new potato flavour and firm white flesh. It’s one of the nation’s favourite garden varieties.

Chitting

chitting
Potatoes produce shoots from the rose end. Image: Martin Mulchinock.

Chitting is a gardening term and it simply means sprouting your potatoes before you plant them. It gives them a head start and encourages them to produce strong, sturdy shoots before planting, so that they grow away faster when planted.

Sort through the seed potatoes and identify the end that has lots of sprouts forming, this is sometimes called the rose end. Place each seed potato into an empty egg box or egg tray with the rose end uppermost. This will allow these shoots to develop. Keep them in a light frost-free place for the shoots to develop. This will take up to six weeks. They should be about 5cm (2in) long and dark green in colour, then they are then ready to plant out.

Jean Vernon

About Jean Vernon

Jean Vernon is a slightly quirky, bee friendly, alternative gardener. She doesn’t follow the rules and likes to push the boundaries a bit just to see what happens. She has a fascination for odd plants, especially edibles and a keen interest in growing for pollinators especially bees. She’s rather obsessed with the little buzzers. Telegraph Gardening Correspondent, mostly testing and trialing products and Editor-In-Chief for Richard Jackson’s Garden.
@TheGreenJeanie
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