The humble spud can be grown pretty much anywhere: in the ground, in containers – even in a cardboard box!
With a little planning you can enjoy garden-grown potatoes from early summer right through to winter. And you can maximise your harvest by planting more – right now…
Grow Potatoes for Winter
I don’t have lots of space for potatoes in my veggie garden, so there won’t be many spuds to store for use over winter. So, with that in mind, I’m planting what are called ‘second cropping’ potatoes.
Second cropping spuds are typically planted in late summer, while the soil’s still warm. They will have been kept in a cold store to prevent them from sprouting in spring and, believe me, they’ll be positively itching to get growing! At this time of year growth is super-rapid, so there’s no need to chit or sprout your seed potatoes first – just get them planted, pronto!
Because the growing season is well advanced now it’s best to go for early season or first early potatoes, as these grow the quickest. Look out for varieties which have names that hint at their speedy growth like ‘Rocket’, ‘Swift’ or ‘Sharpe’s Express’ – those guys don’t hang about!
Whether you choose to plant in the ground or in pots depends on your climate and whether you’re a gambling person or not! Potatoes can’t tolerate freezing weather, so by planting them in the ground you need to bank on there being at least 90 frost-free days between now and when you expect to harvest them. Last year the gamble paid off for me and I harvested some lovely tubers just as it turned frosty.
To plant directly into the ground, first enrich the soil with well-rotted manure or compost to give your potatoes a boost. Plant them about 18in (45cm) apart in both directions. Once they’re planted they need little attention other than to keep them well watered in dry weather. But as summer gives way to autumn, gardeners in cooler areas shouldn’t need to water their potatoes – it’s just a matter of counting down the days to lift-up date.
Growing Potatoes in Containers
You’ll probably get the weightiest harvests from potatoes grown in the ground, but planting into large containers makes it possible to grow potatoes on a sheltered patio or in a greenhouse for a cheeky later crop. As an added bonus, they’re far less likely to be munched by slugs than a late crop in the ground.
So, cardboard boxes? Yes, really! Cardboard boxes make handy – and free – potato containers. If the ones you have are not quite sturdy enough, you could push one cardboard box into a close-fitting second one for extra rigidity.
Fill the bottom of your sturdy cardboard box container with a couple of inches (5cm) of potting mix. You can mix it 50:50 with garden compost to eke it out and keep costs down. Rest the seed potatoes on top, then cover them over until the box is half full. Once the shoots push through and the plants have grown on a little, fill the box right up to within an inch of the top to allow more space for those tempting tubers to form.
Once the box is full and the cardboard softens from watering – and potatoes in containers do need a LOT of water – moving it becomes a lot tricker, so make sure you position it in the optimal spot right at the start. Once you’ve harvested your potatoes, the cardboard can be torn up or pulled apart and dumped onto the compost heap.
Growing Potatoes for Christmas
Your second cropping spuds should be good to lift from mid to late autumn, and with any luck you’ll be able to delay harvesting container-grown potatoes until a week or two before Christmas so you can enjoy home-grown potatoes with your festive dinner! Cut back the foliage once it starts to die off. Make sure the container stays protected from frost by insulating it using bubble plastic, sacking or similar if necessary. That way your second cropping spuds should stay in good condition until you’re ready to use them.
If you decide to grow second cropping spuds, let me know how you get on in the comments below!