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Potatoes

UK Garden Centre - Information about Potatoes

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Some of the vegetables in this section, such as salsify and celeriac, need an introduction – potatoes do not. They remain our basic vegetable – the almost invariable partner for meat, fish or poultry. So the question is which type to grow and whether to grow the vegetable – no worries here about gluts or turned-up noses! Your choice is between the earlies and the maincrops, the difference being in the time taken to reach the lifting stage. If you have a large plot the answer is simple – grow earlies to provide ‘new’ potatoes in summer and also grow maincrops to provide tubers for storage over winter. If space is limited then an early variety should be your only choice. The yield will be lower than from a maincrop, but it will take up less space, miss the ravages of blight and provide new potatoes at a time when shop prices are high. Potatoes are half-hardy – young leaves are killed by late frosts in spring and the stems are destroyed by the first frosts of autumn. During the period in between our most popular vegetable must put on all its growth and produce the underground tubers we use for food. Potato growing has a language of its own. We begin with certified seed – small potatoes produced from plants which have been certified as virus-free. These potatoes are usually chitted, which means that they have been induced to develop small shoots before planting. From these planted seed potatoes the haulm (stems and leaves) is produced and below ground bulking-up takes place – swelling of the tubers in summer or early autumn. Greening must be avoided by earthing-up – the covering of the stem bases with soil. The reason is simple – green potatoes are poisonous.

Seed facts
Seed should be the size of a small hen’s egg (1-2oz (28-56g)). Do not plant diseased or soft seed potatoes. Large seed should not be cut in half. Rose end – most eyes occur in this area.
Amount required for a 10ft row: 1 1.2 lb (0.7kg)
Expected yield from a 10ft row: 12lb (6kg) early varieties; 20lb (9kg) maincrop varieties.
Approximate time between planting and lifting: 13 weeks early varieties; 22 weeks maincrop varieties.
Ease of cultivation: Not difficult - but high yields call for watering and spraying.

Soil facts
· Potatoes can be grown in practically every soil type. It is the best crop to grow in grassland or wasteland which is to be turned into a vegetable plot – earthing-up and the dense leaf canopy help to clean up new ground. In the established vegetable plot potatoes should not be grown on land which has been used for this crop within the past 2 seasons.
· Choose a sunny spot if possible and avoid frost pockets. Dig the soil in autumn and add peat or compost if the soil was not manured for the previous crop. Never add lime.
· Before planting rake in Bromophos if there is a wireworm problem, which is likely in newly-dug grassland. Break down any clods and sprinkle Growmore fertilizer over the surface.

Planting
· When you obtain your seed potatoes in February set them out (rose end uppermost) in egg boxes or in wooden trays containing a 1in (2.5cm) layer of dry peat. Keep them in a light (not sunny) frost-free room and in about 6 weeks there will be several sturdy ½ -1in (1-2.5cm) shoots. Do not remove any of these sprouts. Chitting is vital for earlies and useful for maincrops.
· Dig drills 5in (12cm) deep. Plant each seed 12in (30cm) apart for early varieties, and 15cm (37cm) for maincrop varieties. Cover tuber with peat or fine soil and replace earth carefully. Make a low ridge with a rake. Each row should be 24in (60cm) apart for early varieties, and 30in (75cm) apart for maincrop varieties.

Calendar
· First Early Varieties: Plant seed potatoes in late March – a week or two earlier in southerly areas and a couple of weeks later in the north. Harvest in June or July.
· Second Early Varieties: Plant in early-mid April and lift in July or August.
· Maincrop Varieties: Plant in mid-late April. Some of the tubers can be lifted in August for immediate use but potatoes for storage should be harvested in September or early October.

Looking after the crop
· If there is a danger of frost when the shoots have begun to emerge draw a little soil over them for protection. When the haulm is about 9in (23cm) high it is time for earthing-up. First of all, break up the soil between the rows with a fork and remove weeds. Use a draw hoe to pile the loose soil against the stems to produce a flat-topped ridge about 6in (15cm) high. Some people like to earth-up a little at a time, but there is little evidence that such a procedure gives better results than the one-step method.
· Water in dry weather – this is most important once the tubers have started to form.

Harvesting
· With earlies wait until the flowers are fully open. Carefully remove soil from a small part of the ridge and examine the tubers. They are ready for harvesting as new potatoes when they are the size of hen’s eggs – insert a flat-tined fork into the ridge well away from the haulm and lift the roots forward into the trench.
· With maincrops the storage cut off the haulm once the foliage has turned brown and the stems have withered. Remove the cut haulm and wait 10 days – then lift the roots and let the tubers dry for several hours. Place them in a wooden box and store in a dark, frost-free shed – they should keep until the spring.
· When harvesting remove all tubers from the soil, however small, to avoid problems next year.

Varieties
Potatoes are available in a wide range of shapes, sizes, colours and textures. The skin may be red, yellow or white and the flesh pale cream or yellow. Texture may be waxy or floury and the shape is round, oval or kidney. Variety is the basic deciding factor with regard to shape and quality but both soil type and weather play a part.

First Early Varieties
Arran Pilot: Kidney-shaped; white flesh. An old favourite, now being replaced by modern varieties. A heavy cropper which does best in light soil in southern counties.
Duke of York: Kidney-shaped; yellow flesh. This variety will succeed in nearly all areas and soil types, and is reputed to have the finest flavour amongst the first earlies.
Home guard: Oval; white flesh. Another old favourite which seems to have lost some of its vigour and is being replaced by more recent introductions. Still a good choice for heavy soil.
Maris Bard: Oval; white flesh. The earliest of all, producing heavy crops of waxy, well-flavoured tubers. Scab resistance is slight, but resistance to virus is high.
Ulster Sceptre: Oval; white flesh. Nearly as early as Maris Bard – the other ‘Ulster’ you can buy is Ulster Chieftain.
Epicure: Round; white flesh. An old variety which is chosen by people seeking an ’old fashioned’ flavour. Hardier than most on cold, exposed sites.
Sharpe’s Express: Kidney-shaped; white flesh. Once available everywhere – now pushed aside by the new varieties. Still a good choice for heavy soil. Rather late, but tubers store well.
Vanessa: Oval; yellow flesh. This is the red-skinned first early, late to mature but succeeds better than most in dry weather.
Sutton’s Foremost: Oval; white flesh. This variety has an excellent reputation for high yields and flavour.
Pentland Javelin: Oval; white flesh. One of the newer favourites which is later than most first earlies but produces heavy crops which are resistant to scab and some strains of eelworm. The texture is waxy.

Second Early Varieties
Wilja: Oval; pale yellow flesh. According to many experts this variety and Estima are the ones to choose. High yields, excellent cooking qualities and reliability are the reasons for its growing popularity.
Estima: Oval; pale yellow flesh. Another modern Dutch variety which is rapidly gaining in popularity because of its attractively-shaped tubers and heavy crops. Scab can be a problem.
Maris Peer: Oval; white flesh. Good yields and some resistance to both scab and blight – but it will fail miserably in dry soil which is not irrigated.
Catriona: Kidney-shaped; creamy flesh. Popular with exhibitors – its long yellow tubers with purple patches are eye-catching. Crops well but cannot be stored for long periods.
Red Craig’s Royal: Oval; white flesh. A good choice for the show bench – long tubers with smooth pink skins and shallow eyes. The waxy-textured potatoes have good cooking qualities but the yields are only moderate.
Arran Banner: Round; white flesh. Second early or early maincrop – it depends on the catalogue. A heavy-cropping, white-skinned potato which grows well in light soils. Tubers are large but only moderate in flavour.
Great Scot: Round; white flesh. An old favourite which gives heavy crops of tubers which last for a long time in store. For many people the best of all baking potatoes.

Maincrop Varieties
Maris Piper: Oval; creamy flesh. A rising star, taking over from the once popular Majestic. It has its problems – scab, slug and drought resistance are low, but it gives excellent yields and its cooking qualities are rated very highly.
Majestic: Kidney-shaped; white flesh. Now more than 70 years old, it is less vigorous than it used to be. It has been pushed out of the recommended lists by modern varieties, but it still keeps its reputation as a fine potato for making chips.
Desirée: Oval; pale yellow flesh. The combination of good characteristics found in this pink-skinned variety makes it hard to beat. It is a very heavy cropper and succeeds in all soil types. It has good drought resistance and the waxy-textured tubers have an excellent flavour.
Pentland Crown: Oval; white flesh. This late maincrop is claimed to produce higher yields than other popular varieties – grow it for its good resistance to blight, scab and virus but not for its keeping and cooking qualities, which are only moderate.
Pentland Squire: Oval; white flesh. The nearest rival to Pentland Crown for the top yield title, but differs by being an early maincrop with good keeping and cooking properties. The tubers are unusually large.
Pentland Dell: Kidney-shaped; white flesh. Another of the Pentlands – early, high yields and good flavour but it has its problems. It suffers in cold soil in the spring and the tubers tend to blacken when cooked.
King Edward: Kidney-shaped; creamy flesh. This red-blotched variety is one of the best known of all potatoes and is still grown by gardeners who are looking for cooking quality rather than quantity.
Red King: Kidney-shaped; creamy flesh. The all-red variant of King Edward. Like its parent it is a rather risky crop to grow – it strongly dislikes some soil types, its yields are sometimes low and it is one of the first varieties to suffer from blight.
Drayton: Kidney-shaped; creamy flesh. Pick this new variety if you want King Edward flavour without the problems. The yields and disease resistance are higher.
Golden Wonder: Kidney-shaped; yellow flesh. The best-flavoured of all potatoes according to many books, but it is rarely a good choice. It needs a light and well-manured soil in Scotland to give a worthwhile yield of tubers.
Pink Fir Apple: Oval; yellow flesh. This peculiar variety is over a century old and is worth trying, although the yields may disappoint you. The long, irregular tubers are waxy and have a new-potato flavour – serve hot or cold.
Kerr’s Pink: Round; white flesh. An early maincrop, grown by people in wet and heavy soil areas who like a floury potato. An excellent chip potato.
Romano: Oval; white flesh. A new red-skinned variety with waxy-textured tubers. It stores and cooks well but you must water when the weather is dry.

Christmas Potatoes: New potatoes for Christmas Dinner – something of a gamble but worth trying if you want to beat the Jones’s. When lifting your crop of first earlies in July set a few tubers aside. Plant them in a warm spot in the garden and look after them in the normal way. In late September cover the plants with large cloches and then get busy with a fork on Christmas Eve.
Potatoes under polythene: The practice of growing potatoes under plastic is becoming increasingly popular. After planting, the row is covered with a sheet of black plastic – before putting down the sheet scatter Slug Pellets along the mounded ridge. Push the edges of the plastic sheet into the soil with a spade. As the haulm emerges it will push against the polythene – at this stage cut a slit and pull through the young stems.
There are many advantages with this method of growing – the soil is warmer and moister, and potatoes can be harvested a few at a time simply by lifting up a section of the sheet. Weeds are suppressed and the chore of earthing-up is removed, but there are drawbacks. There is the cost of the polythene and the menace of slugs.

Troubles
Many diseases, pests and disorders can attack potatoes and reduce yields, but only four are likely to be a serious threat. Three of these are pests – potato cyst eelworm, slugs and wireworm. The other one is a disease – potato blight. The virus diseases can be a menace and you should therefore buy seed which is certified.
Potato Blight
Spindly Sprouts
Soft Tubers
Leaf Roll Virus
Mosaic Virus
Aphid (Greenfly)
Capsid Bug
Frost
Poor Quality
Magnesium Deficiency
Gapping
Blackleg
Rosy Rustic Moth
Potato Cyst Eelworm
Slugs
Common Scab
Spraing
Powdery Scab
Dry Rot
Wireworm
Splitting
Hollow Heart
Wart Disease
Soft Rot
Gangrene


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