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Her Outdoors: planting potatoes

Jane Merrick

I’ve been on holiday, but the allotment isn’t taking any down time at the moment – despite some very chilly days last week, buds are bursting on the fruit trees, the spring cabbages under nets are swelling and tiny radish seedlings are getting bigger by the day.

The weeds are also flourishing – my plot is plagued by bindweed, which if left to grow has pretty white flowers but strangling roots that look like electrical flex and take over everything. When I took on Plot 35a last April, I dug out a lot of the bindweed, but it is impossible to get rid of it all in a season, so vigilance is the key.

The potatoes I chitted back in February were ready to be planted by St Patrick’s Day, 17th March – I know many gardeners leave planting until the end of March or early April but in London the soil is warm enough to get them in by then, when the shoots will be about an inch long.

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Planting a King Edward seed potato

The bed I’m using for potatoes this year is at the back of the plot, close to trees but still gets plenty of sun – especially now we are past the equinox and the days are longer than the nights. I dug in lots of well-rotted manure about a week earlier, but it is better done earlier than this to get all the nutrients working in the soil.

I chitted three varieties – King Edward, which is a main crop potato, Casablanca, a first early, and Charlotte, a second early salad type. Seed companies always send about 30 seed potatoes of each variety, which even on an allotment are too many if you have ordered more than one variety. So, only the King Edwards went in the bed – with some left over. The other two varieties will have to grow in bags.

In the bed, I dug a trench of about 6 inches, which means there will be some established growth before earthing up is needed. Each seed potato needs to be about a foot apart- which means four to a row in a bed this size – with the short chitted shoots facing upwards.

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Plant seed potatoes about a foot apart

Then the extra soil from the trench can be piled up over the row. I got Girl Outdoors to plant some, though it took some guidance to get her to put the shoots facing upwards. Each row should be a foot apart too. In a few weeks, green shoots and leaves will emerge and these need to be earthed up to get maximum crop.

For the Casablanca and Charlotte potatoes, I used bags – either old compost bags with holes punched in the bottom or specially-designed potato bags with have a “door” at the side to access the lovely spuds once they’re ready. I filled each bag with about six inches of compost first, then evenly placed five seed potatoes in each bag – any more and you won’t get large enough potatoes.

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'Casablanca' in an old compost bag

Then I covered the potatoes with more compost. The downside to using bags is it takes a lot of compost to keep earthing them up – unlike in the ground where the soil is drawn up from around them. However, potatoes can grow in the unrefined stuff from the compost bin, so to save money you can divert some of the food waste and allotment clippings from there.

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Potatoes covered in a bag

Every time I put something into the allotment I like to take something out – like a veggie checking account. Purple sprouting broccoli is reaching its peak at the moment – I harvested a couple of handfuls for lunch, which was delicious just steamed and served with butter. I only wish I’d sown more PSB last year…

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Purple Sprouting Broccoli harvested after potatoes planted

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