It's that time of year when home growers around the country start preparing for the growing season. One of the crops you can get a head start on is potatoes.
Potato shopping days are a lovely way to buy your seed potatoes, but there are so many varieties out there that I thought I'd give a few tips to help you pick the most suitable types depending on your desires!
Potatoes are frequently described as having a waxy, floury or all-purpose texture, which will let you know the best way to cook them.
These have a lower starch content which means they don't break apart when being boiled making them ideal for salads or used in layered dishes.
Varieties to look for are:
With the higher starch content these are perfect to be roasted, chipped or mashed, look for:
Harvest them early for new potatoes or leave them in longer for a meatier spud.
These varieties can be cooked almost any way you choose:
Having decided on how you want to use your potatoes, it's time to work out when you want them!
There are three terms given to potatoes that let you know when they need planting and harvesting.
First Early; these are typically planted between February and April depending on your location and will be ready between June and July. They tend to be smaller but very tasty.
Second Early; planted in late February or early March these will be ready to be dug up a couple of weeks later than the first earlies. They tend to be slightly bigger but used in salads, boiled, mashed or as mini roasters, depending on their texture.
Main Crop; planted from mid-March to mid-May, these can be ready roughly four weeks after the first earlies but take on average 20 weeks from planting.
Once you've got your spuds home, you can either start preparing them straight away or store them until you have the time. To save them for later you will need to find a cool, dark place but make sure they don't freeze.
Chitting helps to break the dormancy of the tuber and can shorten the time between planting and harvesting by two weeks. It also helps to increase crop quantity.
You'll need to stand the tubers upright with the most "eyes" facing up. If you're only planting a few, an egg box is perfect, but if you've got carried away and bought rather a lot (guilty as charged) then a wooden sided box with rolled up newspaper to hold them works just as well.
Place them in a light, cool but frost-free location. Mine end up on my little one's windowsill (he's tolerant of his mum's plant obsession), but porches, sheds, and greenhouses work as well.
After a couple of weeks, the tubers should have started to sprout. What you need is three or four short, green and purple shoots about 2.5cm (1") long. If you have too many, "rub" off the excess shoots as this will concentrate the growth into large potatoes.
If you're in a cold location, the earlies can happily grow in containers, greenhouses, and polytunnels. Some varieties such as 'Rocket' and 'Jazzy' have been developed specifically for this purpose.
Plant them outside about 12.5cm deep and 60cm apart, when the soil is around 5°C but be prepared to cover with fleece or old carpet if we get a late frost.
My allotment suffers from blight, although with last years heat it wasn't that prevalent. I tend to grow first and second early varieties which are generally ready to be harvested before blight has set in. Plus I like new potatoes covered in butter!
It also means that I have space in summer to squeeze in another crop or two or just let the squashes sprawl. I'll be growing 'International Kidney' as usual this year, but I'm also giving 'Bergerac' and 'Jester' a trial and planning to grow in potato bags for the first time!