Dear Organic Gardening Friends,

Spring has landed all at once in a rush — snowdrops, crocii, plum blossom, camellias and daffodils seem to have opened almost in the same breath, or at most on consecutive days!  Amazing what just a sunbeam or two will do!

One of the top vegetable crops to get in right away is the potato.  Tasty, versatile, ideal for the ground, nutritious for the person and easy to grow: even the thought makes one smile.  You can grow potatoes in large spaces or modest containers depending on which types you want to grow.  They come in early, second early and main crops:  main crops are pretty much for large fields so for present purposes we’ll look at earlies and second earlies.

Earlies are usually ready 12 weeks after planting and second earlies after 16 weeks:  you will be able to tell when they are ready when they flower.

Choose your potatoes for yield, purpose and taste.  For example, for taste some of the best are Lady Christl, Mimi, and Red Duke of York.  For yield, Vale Emerald (also a good flavour!),  Premiere and Puritan.  All round favourites include Duke of York, Epicure for earlies and Charlotte, Anya and Kestrel for second earlies.   Top multi-purpose choices (ie to Boil, Mash, Roast, Chip and Bake) are Arran Victory, Estima, Kestrel and Maris Piper.

TOP CHIP CHOICES also include: Golden Wonder, Highland Burgundy, King Edward, Salad Blue,  Remarka, Maris Piper, Wilja and at the top of the list, best of all, Yukon Gold!

Keep the three strongest growing shoots on each seed potato, breaking off all other shoots so as to concentrate growth.  To then plant them in the ground simply dig a trench of about 3 to 5 inches in depth.  Vary this according to the size of your potato, putting smaller potatoes in shallower trenches.  Add a decent amount of organic fertiliser — encouraging but not over-zealous:  there are specialist potato fertilsers available or you could use  Miracle -Gro or liquid feed with tomato fertiliser alternatively.  Earlies should be around 10 inches apart and the rows 20 inches apart.  Second earlies need a bit more space:  allow 15 inches apart and 30 inches between rows.  Cover the trenched in potatoes carefully with earth and water well.

As the shoots appear, keep covering them with earth  (“earthing up”).  You will end up with mounds about 8 or 9 inches high or so as they grow.  Keep them well watered and fed until the flowers announce your harvest is ready.

Potatoes can easily be grown in large containers or bags or even plastic garbage bags. Use a peat-free compost (such as New Horizon for example) to plant allowing one seed potato for every 14 litre bag placing about  12 inches of compost in the bottom of each container in the first instance and cover with a further 7 inches or so.   Ensure there are holes for drainage and keep the shoots covered, watered and fed.  A popular potato for growing in containers is the Swift.  Lots of gardening centres and other sources will sell complete potato-growing kits too at very attractive prices.

Some other recommended varieties are:  Toluca, Nadine and Mayan Twilight plus Belle de Fontaney for salads, Gladstone for roasting, BF-15 for boiling.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four — could you possibly want any more!?!!  I hope this is a useful overview so that you can start easily just about anywhere and have your own home-grown delicious, nutritious, scrumptious spuds on your table in no time.

Take it easy — and love the life you live!

Very best wishes,

Arabella May Biddle

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