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 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
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.
· 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.
· 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.
· 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
· 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
· 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Drayton: Kidney-shaped; creamy flesh. Pick this
new variety if you want King Edward flavour without
the problems. The yields and disease resistance
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
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
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
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.
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.
Leaf Roll Virus
Rosy Rustic Moth
Potato Cyst Eelworm