If you are thinking about growing potatoes in your vegetable garden this year be sure to take the time to plan out and prepare your plot before sowing. Potatoes are hungry vegetables and like a lot of nutrients and soil that is slight acidic to grow well. If you prepare your site just right, you will generate a large harvest of big healthy potatoes.
First thing to do is to choose the type and variety for you. Spuds are divided into three groups, determined by their time of harvest. The groups are earlies, second earlies and main crop. These three groups can be sown around the same time; i.e. mid March to mid April with each being ready to harvest later than the previous. In general you can say the earlies, which are harvested first, take around ten week to mature. This type of potato produces a smaller crop and requires less growing space on the plot. Mains on the other hand require twenty week to mature and are last to be harvested, well into August. Main crops are the largest, with the biggest yields and are considered to store the best.
Once you know which type of potato you will grow you now have the fascinating task of choosing the variety of potato to grow. The list is endless with new and old varities all with a range of flavours, skin colours, texture, cooking style, disease resistance and storing qualities. Some of the most common varities grown in Ireland include: Rooster and Kerr’s Pink (both main crops), Queen (Second Early), Sarpo Mira (disease resistant), Colleen (early crop). While some old varieties that have been making a return include: Fir Pink Apple (Main crop) and Beauties (a variety that survived the famine in some parts of Ireland)
So, the hard part is surely behind us; choosing seed potatoes is the one area that requires the most time and research and generally growers will buy two or three varieties and test them out each year. Of course before sowing the spud ground preparation must be carried out;
Potatoes like a deep, fertile soil with added farm yard manure and low pH of around 6.5pH, which is slightly acidic. Adding farm yard manure makes soil slightly more acidic but if you live on limey soil such as that found in the midlands of Ireland then you can add Sulphate of Iron to your soil. Add 100 grams per M2.
It is always best to prepare your soil the previous autumn, however if your adding Sulphate of Iron prepare and add in spring time, a month before sowing your seed potatoes. Prepare the soil by digging it over to a depth of about 1 foot adding approx 3 inches of farm yard manure to entire bed.
Next create your trenches. They should be 10cm deep but the spacing will depend on the type of potato you are growing:
For earlies make rows 45 cm apart and sow potatoes 30cm apart.
For maincrop and Second earlies make rows 70cm apart and sow potatoes 40cm apart
Cover the potatoes and water in well. It will be important to keep the area weed free while the potatoes establish. Once the potatoes reach 7cm tall you can begin earthling them up. To earth up draw soil up around their stems and lower leaves so that 2/3 of the plant is covered with soil and only a few leaves remain above soil. Repeat this process 3 more times over the growing season until time of harvest.