Saturday, 27 August 2011

Spring Planting: Potatoes

Spring is almost here! I can smell it in the air, the jonquils and daffodils are bursting into flower and their delicate perfume is wafting over various parts of our garden. So it's time to plant some spuds. Well, more spuds, because I was a bit sneaky and jumped the gun a bit two weeks ago and planted the first lot under a blanket of frost netting to get an early start. I'll be bandicooting potatoes by Christmas, and my mouth is watering at the thought of baby new potatoes with fresh herbs from the garden smothered in butter and salt and pepper...mmmm. they are easy to grow and produce prolifically - I got about 5kg of spuds from each seed potato last year, and there are lots of varieties to choose from. We have just run out of the ones I stored over winter,so from early harvesting in December through to the end of August we didn't have to buy a potato- saved a few $$ there! So how do you go about planting them?

Well drained rich soil is a must. If the soil is too wet, the potatoes will rot and /or develop diseases which give ghastly skin or rotten cores. A raised bed, or large container is the best idea, as drainage is not an issue and you can easily build up the soil. I've seen potatoes grown in old tyres, tried it myself in chicken wire and newspaper towers (as below), and even straw bales. The trick is to keep building up the soil level as the plant grows, and make sure that the developing tubers are well covered, or they will go green. Green potatoes are toxic and should not be eaten. So wherever you plant them, make sure you have enough room to biuld up, and the plants have room to spread out as the tubers develop. Think containers like half wine barrels, old bathtubs etc...

If you are planting into the ground ,the first step is to make sure the soil is loose and friable. Use a hoe and get rid of any weeds - I'm lucky because my chookies have been digging over my potato bed for the last month and have eradicated weeds completely. If you're like me and sensibly ordered them weeks ago, they should have arrived by now, and they should have greened up and begun to sprout if you have left them in a well lit area ( Don't put in direct sunlight or the tubers will 'burn.' You don't need them sprouted as much as the ones pictured below, but at least 1cm is good.

Dig a trench and place tubers with the "eyes" up approximately 30-40cm apart as pictured below. I plant mine at least 10 cm deep. As the plant grows you will hill up more soil around the main stem of the plant which will in turn produce more tubers. you will then end up with trenches between the hilled up plants, which assist with drainage. 

By October my plants will look something like this, but being in the mountains I will still need to cover them at night for frost until early November. (You shouldn't get cats sprouting from yours by the way lol). In Spring the plants put a lot of effort into growth, and need good soil, well rotted manure, and compost. When Murray mows the lawn I throw the clippings over the top to help hill up around the plants, and also water with Seasol once a fortnight until December. When summer comes, don't let the soil dry out. A good mulch will help keep the soil moist, and once the potatoes have bushed out water loss will be minimal as they cover the ground really well. If you push your finger into the soil, the soil particles should stick together, but still be a bit crumbly.

By December the plants will be well established and look like this. You will then be able to gently dig down and "bandicoot" that is, steal early spuds for Christmas lunch. The others left behind will have more room to grow and thus you will get bigger tubers for storing later on. So go and get started!

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