The first time I grew potatoes was for a work competition. We were each given three seed spuds and a sack to grow them in, and were told to use any product Oderings sold, to see who could grow the most. After 90 days, we all lined up and tipped out our sacks, and I thought, "Really, it can’t be this easy," but it was.
Potatoes are an easy-to-grow vegetable that can be grown in the garden or pots or other containers, and with just a few months until Christmas, now is the time to plant them if you want a Christmas dinner harvest. What is not commonly known about potatoes is that they are rich in Vitamin B and C and have more protein and iron than many other vegetables. They also contain minerals such as Phosphorus, Potassium, and Calcium.
Growing potatoes in the garden can take up a bit of space, and many gardeners forgo growing them for this reason. There are ways around this in the form of planter bags, pots, sacks, and containers such as barrels, boxes, or tyres.
Potatoes are a warm-season plant and are very susceptible to frost. Most gardeners prefer to plant potatoes between July and September, and plant a second crop again in January or February, but in colder areas, planting time is generally restricted to August through January. Potatoes are adaptable to both light and heavy soils; however, good drainage is essential.
Oderings sell certified seed potatoes, which means they are free of viruses and disease. There are plenty to choose from, so look at your local Oderings Potato Board and choose one based on your taste buds and harvesting time.
Growing in the Garden
Step 1: To sprout (or chit) potatoes, place on a tray (egg cartons work well) in a well-lit area inside, a sunny windowsill is ideal. When shoots appear, the potatoes are ready for planting. If you have difficulty, place your potatoes in the hot water cylinder where it is dark and warm. Once your potatoes sprout, they still need to be put outside in the sun for the shoots to turn dark, and then you can plant them.
Step 2: While waiting for the potatoes to sprout, start preparing your soil. If you have light soil or well-worked soil, weed removal is all that is needed. For heavy soil, you can add Gypsum which will break it down. Adding Gypsum will not alter the pH levels of you soil and will add calcium which potatoes love.
Potatoes in the garden need to be planted 15 cm deep, in rows that are 60 cm apart. Now is the time to fertilise with Potato Fertiliser, which has all the nutrients for the growing season. Add one-quarter cup per metre, covered over with 5 cm of soil so it does not burn the potatoes. (So, dig your trench 20 cm deep to achieve this.) Add Neem Granules to the soil also, and reapply at 4- to 6-weekly intervals. If you want to make sure your spuds are pest free, this is the best natural product to help achieve it.
Step 3: Place potatoes 30 cm apart in the rows, cover over with soil, and rake the surface level. Sprouts will start to emerge in two to three weeks.
Step 4: When sprouts are 15 cm tall, pile up the soil (make a mound) adding 10 cm mounds each time. This will support the plants, protect new potatoes from sun exposure and prevent pests attacking them. Each time the sprouts get to 15 cm, repeat this step, until maturity date or when the shoots above the ground begin to flower or wither and die.
An alternative method was recommended to me two years ago: Pile up the soil (make a mound) 30-40 cm, at planting time. I tried this once, and although the crop took a little bit longer to mature, it was much easier and in my opinion a time saver. So if you do not have the time or inclination for step 4, then follow this tip.
Growing in Space Savers
Even if you don’t have a lot of space you can still enjoy the taste and ease of growing your own potatoes.
First, pick something to grow them in. I’ve seen it done with rubbish bins, tyres piled up on top of each other, big buckets, wine barrels, large pots, and of course sacks. Whatever you use, make sure you clean the container well and that there are plenty of drainage holes.
Follow Step 1 for garden planting: chitting your potatotes. Meanwhile, place 10 cm of soil into your container, then a layer of Potato Fertiliser, then another 5 cm of soil, and finally, place one layer of seed potatoes (for tyres around 4 potatoes) and cover with another 15 cm of soil.
Follow step 4 for garden planting. Keep repeating step 4 until the selected space-saver is full of soil and/or the maturity date has lapsed, or based on my tip above, fill the space saver to the top once you have placed the seed spuds and wait until the maturity date or when the shoots above the ground begin to flower or wither and die. Then turn the space saver over and sort through your potatoes, store, and enjoy.
Tips to Remember
• Watering regularly will promote smooth, well-developed potatoes.
• Most potatoes are ready for digging after 90-100 days.
• If storing potatoes, allow the tops to completely die off before harvesting, discard any damaged spuds, and store in a cool, dark, dry place.
• Pest and diseases can affect potatoes, e.g., aphids, blight, psyllid, and potato moth. Consult your local store for correct diagnosis and control agents, but use Neem Granules as a natural pest control for any veggies in the garden or pots.
• Grow potatoes to help break up the soil in a new garden, and the crop will be a bonus.
• Potatoes sometimes get a scabby skin; normally caused by a lack of calcium in the soil prevent it by incorporating gypsum when preparing the soil.
• Not all potatoes flower, so if unsure, wait for the maturity date before harvesting, or until the foliage tips start to wither and die. Harvesting can be done 3-4 weeks after flowering; yet, most gardeners leave it until the tops die down. This is a must if you are going to store your potatoes.
• Potatoes need crop rotation. Plant in a new position every year.
There are four crops you can choose from:
Extra Early Crop – Matures in 60 days,
Early Crop – Matures in 90 days,
Early Main Crop – Matures in 90-100 days, and
Main Crop – Can take up to 110 days to mature.