Potato growing basics PLUS how to grow potatoes in buckets
You don’t need a large garden to grow potatoes. Try growing them in a bucket or a container.
Words: Kath Irvine
Potatoes are a great crop for beginners. Potatoes planted in the ground will always be more productive, but when short on room, grow them in a bucket – a great use for cracked, broken buckets. However, any container with drainage will do as spuds will grow in anything – one of my best harvests came from a plant growing in a pile of old straw. Sacks and boxes are another option.
If your homemade compost is like mine, with bits of undigested fibre and egg shell, it’ll be fine. Store-bought compost is dense, often very rich and needs the addition of river sand, straw or pine needles to dilute it and bring in air. Put about 10cm of this mix into the bottom of the container and place seed potato on top – one per 10-litre bucket. If you’re lucky enough to be seaside, add a handful of kelp beneath the spud. Fill the bucket with the rest of the mixture.
Quick-turn-around spuds such as ‘Ilam Hardy’, ‘Rocket’ or ‘Liseta’, which are ready in less than 80 days, are the best choice for containers. In cooler spring weather, keep the bucket in the sun, but as the days and nights warm up, keep the container shaded (not the tops though) by placing it among shrubs or other pots. Keep the container moist, not wet. Mulch is your friend here.
WHY POTATOES ARE A GOOD PLANT FOR BEGINNERS
• Potatoes are natural soil cultivators. Plant them first when breaking in new ground; they are fabulous value, with 1kg of seed yielding at least 10kg of gourmet new-season spuds.
• In small gardens, plant fast-growing, early varieties such as ‘Rocket’ and ‘Swift’, which only take 70-90 days to harvest. They can be spaced 30cm apart, whereas main croppers such as ‘Agria’ need twice as much room to grow.
HOW TO CHIT POTATOES
Chitting potatoes simply means sprouting. To make seed potatoes ‘chit’, expose them to indirect light for a few days until they produce some shoots. When shoots are a few centermetres in length, they are ready to plant.
Earthing potatoes helps produce a bumper crop and prevent disease. First dig a shallow 15cm trench in the ground and place potatoes on the top and cover in soil. When the potato plant leaves have reached 20cm in length, cover the potato in soil (this is called earthing). Leave just 5cm of leaf growth above the ground. Repeat this process everytime 15 cm of growth appears above the ground.Earthing prevents the new tubers turning green.
Harvest potatoes when the tops of the plants start to die back.