Where would the nation be without the humble potato?
Potatoes can be grown pretty much anywhere, produce a high yield from a relatively small space and store well.
No wonder they have been a staple diet for Irish families for centuries. Digging for your first new potatoes will be like Christmas morning - that’s a certainty!
Potatoes thrive in a good fertile soil to grow well. For best results add compost and a general fertiliser a week or two before planting.
Potato leaves are frost sensitive, so if you intend to grow an early crop we suggest buying some fleece to protect your plants.
Potatoes are grown from last year’s potatoes, known as seed potatoes. These can be potatoes you save yourself or purchased certified seed potatoes. Buying certified seed potatoes guarantees the potatoes are virus free – these can be found in garden centres and hardware shops from January-April.
There are two types of potato variety: earlies and maincrop. Earlies are for harvesting in the summer and maincrop varieties are for use in the autumn and winter.
If you are growing earlies, then it is recommended you start chitting them in February (you can also do this with your maincrop, but it is particularly beneficial with earlies ).
“Chitting” the seed potatoes is allowing them to sprout to give them a head start before sowing. Lay the seed potatoes out in a shallow tray or used egg carton and leave them in a cool but frost free, reasonably light place. By March they will have developed green sprouts. Ideally these should be no longer than 2cm when planted, longer sprouts need very careful handling when planted out.
Plant earlies from mid-March to early April (St Patrick’s Day traditionally ) in single rows 25cm apart and 50cm between rows.
Maincrop varieties are planted in mid to late April – plant 30cm apart in 60cm rows.
A potato seed needs to be surrounded by soil in order to produce a good crop of potatoes that aren’t green – a depth of at least 25cm of soil above the planted seed potato is required. To achieve this, plant potatoes at a 15cm depth and then after the potato has emerged start “earthing up” (drawing soil up to the stems ) a further 10-15cm of soil. You can also just plant them 25cm deep, which won’t require any “earthing up” – however, for vigorous maincrop varieties repeated earthing up over the season can give higher yields.
Dry soil can badly affect the yield and quality of your potatoes – if the soil is dry then watering is required. If watering is needed then apply it in the morning so the leaves can dry off in the afternoon to discourage blight.
Potato leaves are frost sensitive, so an early crop can be covered with fleece to protect the young leaves from late frost.
Earlies should be ready about 14 weeks after planting.
Maincrops usually take 18 weeks.
The presence of flowers on the plant, of some varieties, can be an indicator that they are ready.
Earlies can be left in the ground and dug as required – they will usually do fine in the ground until September.
Maincrop are usually harvested in October – they can be left in the ground until hard frost is a danger, but you should also watch out for slugs if leaving them in the ground.
To harvest, dig up potatoes using a shovel or fork and carefully lift them.
When completing final harvest be sure to remove all potatoes from the ground, even the tiny ones, when harvesting – if left in the soil they will sprout next year, causing problems for the crops that are planted there.
Store in sacks in a frost-free shed – it is essential that they are stored in the dark so they don’t turn green.
If blight strikes, cut down the stems immediately, leaving the tubers in the ground – they won’t grow any more, but the blight won’t reach them.
When storing maincrop potatoes, cut the stems down and leave the spuds in the ground for 10 days to allow the skin to mature.
Store potatoes in hessian sacks in a dark, cool shed – do not store any damaged ones.