Even though the weather is crazy with snow at the moment; it is about now that people think about putting in potatoes – start ‘chitting’ they say (bring them out to start sprouting). There are thousands of varieties of potatoes to choose from – all suggesting whether they are good for chips, potato salad or roasting etc. It is good to have so many to choose from but the problem with being a tiny urban farmer is space. Most potatoes are sold in a kilo or two kilo bag that means you get 16-30 or even more potatoes to plant. Each plant can give 10-80 potatoes so that is a lot of potatoes never mind the space to grow them.
A 1-2 kilo bag is great value and good for people with allotments and the space to grow, however, I do not have the space (or I guess my garden could be full to the brim with potatoes)
This year I found that Wilko sells potatoes in a five pack – that means you just get five potatoes in a bag for a pound. Perfect amount for a backyard or patio. You could even stretch to buying two varieties. This year I bought Anya and Swift; Anya is a finger shaped, supposedly good for steaming, boiling and roasting and Swift is good for boiling, steaming and salads.
They are both early potatoes – there is really no difference between early, late and main crop – it just how long it will take for the potatoes to be ready (if you plant first early, second early and main crop at the same time they would be ready to eat in that order 10 weeks vs up to 20 weeks later – a lot of potatoes). Main crop are best for storage but I am not sure where I would keep them as I have no cold storage. If you have autumn sun in your yard or patio you can plant early potatoes in late summer/early autumn and have new potatoes for Christmas.
One thing that I do to get around buying big bags of seed potatoes is to use store-bought potatoes (gasp!). Many people will say you can’t do that because of disease or that the store sprays potatoes and other crops with germination inhibitors. All I can say is that I have never has a problem with potato disease or germination – in fact sometimes they germinate before I am ready.
This year I am adding Charlotte potatoes to the group (that is also the early I use for Christmas time) due to the picture above. I just choose the potato (or two) with the biggest/fattest sprouts and the chitting is done for me. The rest I just knock the sprouts off and put back in the cupboard (and try to remember to cook them before it happens again).
If you don’t want to have five potatoes plants all ready at the same time – you can try to dig one plant up at a time, if in the same bag. You can also try what I am trying this year and that is to chit some early and late chit others. The picture above I started chitting as soon as I got the potatoes – the others I will chit later so that there may be a month between the potatoes. If they later ones start growing/chitting before you want you can just knock off the shoots so they start again. You can do that a couple of times before you have to plant them – you don’t want them to lose too much energy before they start growing in earnest
The final good thing about Wilko (no, I don’t work for them) is that if you order a bag of compost or potting mix it comes in its own white plastic ‘hessian’ bag. Perfect for growing potatoes in; they are loose weave so don’t need drainage holes and you can roll down the sides when you start growing. Put a small amount of soil in the bottom and just enough to cover over the potatoes (the leaves/sprouts should be visible) and then as the potato plants grow just roll the sides up and fill with more soil so it is just the leaves showing – this will increase the number of potatoes you get to harvest rather than if you just put them in a pot and left them alone.