This June Planting Guide is meant for those of you living in Zones 4 to 6. This post originally appeared as a guest post on The Survival Mom!

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Let me start out by giving you a quick link. This post is meant for those of you living mainly in Garden Zones 4 to 7.

Even the most avid gardeners have a bad year! Any number of things can keep you out of the garden in April and May, weather problems, work commitments, family problems . . . we’ve all been there. But don’t give up on your garden just yet. There are still plenty of yummy veggies you can get planted now (in mid to late June) and this June Planting Guide will get you a nice harvest before the summer ends. Let’s talk about what you can still get planted now and also talk about a few things that you can get started indoors and plant in about 6 to 8 weeks (Around August 1st for most of us).

Contents

June Planting Guide

June Planting Guide – Summer or Warm-Season Veggies

No summer garden is complete without a few tomato plants and you can still get some in. Hurry on this one! Most nurseries will still have a few tomato plants hanging around but they won’t last much longer (don’t try to plant tomatoes by seed this time of year) This late in the year you want to be thinking about smaller quicker maturing varieties. Try some type of cherry tomato (varieties to look for include Sun Sugar, and sweet 100), they are relatively fast growers and should still give you a good harvest in September and early October.

You can also try some of the tomatoes that produce small to medium sized fruit (think varieties like Early Girl, possibly Celebrity, or many of the Roma tomatoes). Try to find tomatoes that grow on determinate vines (vs Indeterminate) as these will spent less time growing vines and more time growing fruit. The 6 weeks you have lost in growing time means you won’t have a huge harvest this year, but if you get them in soon you should still have plenty for fresh eating!

Summer Squashes

Zucchini and yellow crookneck squash are actually quite fast growing. Look for varieties that have a maturity date of around 60 to 70 days and you should still have lots of time to grow more zucchini that you can eat! You could also look for a patty pan squash with a short maturity date.

Green beans

Most bush type green beans have a maturity date of around 60 to 70 days so there is plenty of summer left for beans. In fact, I don’t make my last planting of green beans until mid-July and still have a great harvest! Learn more about growing a late crop of beans with this article.

Melons

If you would still like to plant a melon you have a little bit of time left. But choose the small “ice box” types as those take much less time to mature. You can also get cantaloupe planted now. Again don’t expect a huge harvest this year, but you will still have a few melons that will be ready before the frost comes.

Potatoes

If you can find the seed still around at your local nurseries there is time to grow a nice crop of potatoes. In fact, you could continue to plant potatoes until mid-July in most areas of the country and still get a nice harvest of small roasting potatoes. This time of the year I would stay away from the big “baking” potatoes, like russets. As you are running short of time to get them to maturity.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers are a good late season planter to be included in a June planting guide. Again you may not get the huge yields you are used to but by planting seeds now you can still have a fairly respectable crop. Check out our complete growing guide on cucumbers here.

Onions

If you can still find a package of onion sets at your local nursery they will do okay this time of year. You won’t get a lot of large onions but you will have plenty of smaller onions and green onions. Don’t try growing onions from seed or starts this late in the year.

Herbs

Many herbs will still do well if planted this time of year. But it would be best if you could find starts, instead of trying to plants seeds.

June Planting Guide Cool Weather Veggies

You can still have an awesome harvest of cool weather veggies by planning now to get them planted in late summer and early fall. Nearly anything you would normally plant in the springtime you can also plant in the fall. Most of the following crops in this June planting guide are meant to be planted INDOORS in your seed starter for transplant out into the garden in August.

Cole Crops

Broccoli, cabbage, kale, and kohlrabi. If you grow your own seedlings mid-June is a good time to start a fall crop of all these yummy cool season veggies. If you plant any of the Cole crops indoors now, they will be ready for planting out in the garden in about 6 to 8 weeks. That means you will be planting them around mid-August and they will mature in October when the weather has cooled back to those temperatures that Cole crops love so much! You may find many of these veggies are even tastier in the fall because a night or two of frost helps to sweeten the flavor. You will be planting these INDOORS in your seed starter for transplant to the garden in August.

Lettuce

You can start replanting lettuce about 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost (for us that’s August 1 – 15). Fall planted lettuce can last unprotected in your garden until early December depending on where you live. Again you will be planting these INDOORS in your seed starter in June and moving them outside in August.

You can also consider some Summer Crisp lettuces. These lettuces are more heat tolerant and can be planted directly in the soil in June for harvest in August and September. Try a variety like Nevada for a great summer crop!

Spinach

This one may seem strange for a June planting guide. Most people see spinach as a spring only crop, but it does very well in the fall! Again look at planting about 6 weeks before your first frost and you will be able to start harvesting in late October. Then cover those plants with a cold frame or hoop house and they will overwinter for an extra early spring crop. Again any planting you do in June will be INDOORS in your seed starter for transplant outside as the fall approaches.

Root Crops

Carrots, turnips, beets, and Parsnip all do well in the fall and you can start replanting them around 6 weeks before your last frost. A June planting of these root crops will need some extra care to get germinated (think extra water) but will do well once established. The taste of these summer grown root crops won’t be a good as their spring or fall counterparts, but they should still give you a good harvest.

So as you can see from this June planting guide, all is not lost, get out there this weekend and gets some seeds and plants in your garden and you can still have an awesome harvest this year!

GROWING POTATOES

By David Marks
First of all, get the timing correct for growing potatoes. If you start your potatoes off too early they will suffer from damp and cold soil. Starting them off too late is not such a problem but your potatoes will mature later than you want. The key to growing potatoes is to start them off at the correct time of year.

One thing is absolutely certain, the dates for growing potatoes on the South Coast of the UK are quite different from many cooler Northern areas. Any book or website which does not take this into account is unlikely to provide you with the correct dates.

To get round this problem of timing we provide a feature on this website which allows you to adjust all the dates automatically depending on the climate in your area. (or top right of all pages in this website) and spend 20 seconds to automatically adjust every date on this site to be correct for your climate. If you don’t adjust the dates they will be assumed to be average for the UK.

Now we know your climate, we can time the various potato growing tasks correctly for your area. Simply click on any subject area at the bottom of this page to be taken to a page which will explain in clear and simple language what you need to do and when you need to do it. All gardening terms (e.g. chitting) will be fully explained with lots of pictures to help you on your way.

Before you do that though, we provide you with a quick guide to growing potatoes throughout the gardening year. It’s very simple to understand and of course is accurate for your area if you have used our gardening date adjuster.

POTATO GROWING CALENDAR FOR THE AVERAGE UK AREA

Start chitting /sprouting your potatoes in the third week of February

Plant out your sprouted potatoes in the fourth week of March

Fortnightly nitrogen feed (e.g. Growmore) from the second week of May to the fourth week of June

Fortnightly potash feed (e.g. tomato fertiliser) from the second week of June to early August 2017

Earth up your potatoes when the foliage is about 10cm / 4in above ground

Water as needed if the weather is very dry.

Potatoes do have a temperature range they prefer, however there is very little the average gardener can do to control this. Ideally they prefer a soil temperature somewhere around 20C / 68F. A soil temperature above 30C / 86F will cause development problems.

Second Crop Autumn Planted Christmas New Potatoes

Second crop or Christmas new potatoes are gaining in popularity. The pleasure of sitting down to a Christmas dinner with fresh new potatoes as well as Brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips all harvested in the morning is unbeatable.

However, they’re not quite as easy to grow as some of the seed merchants would have you believe, especially outside of the sheltered, warm south eastern areas of Britain.

When to Plant Autumn Second Crop Potatoes

It’s critical to get the timing right with these second crop potatoes. Too early and they’re ready before Christmas but too late and not only do you miss Christmas but they’ll probably be struck with a hard frost and not crop at all.

You need to order the seed potatoes in good time, mid-July to early-August and start chitting on delivery preparatory to planting out at the end of August or the first week of September. If they arrive late, don’t worry about chitting, just plant straight out.

Second Crop Potato Varieties for Christmas New Potatoes

Second crop potatoes are not special breeds or variants on ordinary cultivars, they’re just first or second early seed potatoes that have been carefully stored in the optimum climate-controlled conditions by the seed merchant. In theory you can do the same at home but in practice it’s a risky business for the home grower.

Chit the spring seed potatoes as usual but leave in the chitting tray keeping them in a cool place with low level indirect light. Keeping them cool is hardest part, a fridge is too cold and even the poor British summer can be too warm for success. A monthly spray with a seaweed solution seems to help the tuber avoid dehydration and generates stronger shoots.

Most early or second early potatoes can be second cropped but the easiest and most popular varieties are Carlingford and Charlotte. Both are excellent waxy salad potatoes. Maris Peer (not Maris Piper) is sometimes offered as a second crop variety but it’s quite second class in terms of yield and tuber size compared to Charlotte.

By using these salad potatoes, any leftovers from Christmas dinner can be turned into a potato salad for Boxing Day tea.

Where to Plant Second Crop Potatoes

Some authorities recommend utilising a bed which has recently been vacated by the first early crop so as to maintain the overall rotation plan for the vegetable plot. I can see the sense in that but would not recommend it.

Firstly the soil has been depleted of the precise nutrient mix that potatoes require and even adding a fertiliser mix balanced for potatoes isn’t going to add any depleted micro-nutrients.

Secondly, following on with the same crops is always risky in that the pests and diseases have started to build up. Even if the first crop escaped them, the second is far more likely to catch it, whatever it may be.

I’d suggest an area of the plot that’s going to be fairly distant from the potatoes in the rotation or alternatively grow in bags or large pots. If growing in soil then avoid areas that have been recently limed, remember potatoes prefer a pH around 5.5 to 6.00 which avoids scab developing.

Growing Potatoes in Bags

If growing in pots then you could follow the instructions for growing potatoes in bags or alternatively just use a good quality multi-purpose compost and add a balanced potato fertiliser. Don’t over do it with the fertiliser, use the correct quantity for the volume of compost. Work on the recommended application rate per square metre per bag.

The advantages of potato growing in pots or sacks are that:

First, if the weather gets really cold and hard frosts come you can move the pot into a greenhouse or a more sheltered location.

Second, growing in compost ensures the skins are unmarked and attractive. You want them to look their best on the Christmas dinner table

Problems with Second Crop Potatoes

Frost and cold weather is the biggest problem and obviously outside of your control. Frost will kill the haulm (foliage) and that stops tuber growth. A layer of horticultural fleece or two or cloches may well save the day.

If it gets really cold, as in the winter of 2010 when it was heavy snow and minus 15 degrees in November then there is nothing you can realistically do which is the advantage of pot grown second crops that can at least be carried into a greenhouse or even the house.

Blight can be a problem. Usually the blight periods are over by September so the second crop isn’t at much risk but with the erratic weather we have in Britain you never know. Fleece or a cloche can provide a good level of protection by stopping the spores landing on your haulm.

Potato Growing Articles

  • Growing Potatoes Overview – How to Grow Potatoes Guide
  • Growing Potatoes – Standard Traditional Method
  • Growing Potatoes Under Straw Mulch
  • Growing Potatoes Under Black Plastic (Polythene) Sheet
  • Potato Growing in Raised Beds & Ridge Planting Potatoes
  • Growing Potatoes in a Barrel – Patio Growing Potatoes
  • Growing Potatoes in Bags | Greenhouse Potatoes
  • Second Crop Autumn Planted Christmas New Potatoes
  • Can you chit supermarket potatoes?
  • Potato Varieties for Flavour -Boiled Baked Roasted Mashed
  • Potato Fertiliser Program Program & (NPK) Requirements
  • Potato Blight Cause, Identification. Prevention, Treatment Potato Blight
  • Wireworm in Potatoes Cause Identification Prevention Control Potato Wireworm
  • Eelworm Potato Cyst Nematode – Control Potato Eelworm
  • Dry Rot in Potatoes Cause Identification Prevention Control of Potato Dry Rot
  • Potato Scab – Common Scab in Potatoes
  • Potato Scab – Powdery Scab in Potatoes
  • Hollow Heart, Splitting & Spraing Potatoes
  • White Spots on Potatoes Lenticels & Potato Stem Rot

See Also:

  • Growing Potatoes for Show, Introduction & Best Varieties
  • Growing Potatoes for Show, Cultivation of Show Potatoes
  • Growing Potatoes for Show Harvest & Showing Potatoes
  • Harvesting Potatoes Guide
  • Storing Potatoes Guide
  • Potatoes from the Allotment Shop

If you have some spare space in your vegetable garden in July you could put in some ‘Second Cropping’ potatoes for a late Autumn/Winter harvest. Winter seed potatoes are essentially selected early varieties that have been kept at low temperatures to prevent them sprouting; the potatoes are planted in July for digging in late Autumn or left in the ground until Christmas.

Christmas varieties can be planted directly in the ground as you would new potatoes or planted in pots or planters which can be moved into a greenhouse or tunnel when the weather gets cold. This year we have 3 varieties: ‘Charlotte’, ‘Nicola’ and ‘Maris Peer’ all of which produce delicious new potatoes with a smooth skin.

Harvesting Garlic
Now is about the right time to lift garlic which should be harvested when the leaves turn yellow. It is better to harvest too early than late as garlic left too long can shatter and may start sprouting. Loosen the soil underneath the bulbs and gently lift shaking the soil off the roots. Be gentle with the plants as as bruising can lead to rot in storage.

If the weather is dry and sunny (chance would be a fine thing) leave the bulbs outside for 7-10 days otherwise dry in a greenhouse or conservatory with good ventilation. Leave the stems and leaves on the garlic which can be plaited for attractive and practical storage.

Keep the best bulbs for re-planting next year if the crop looks healthy. There is some evidence that garlic gradually adapts to local climate so by re-planting every year you can gradually develop your own strain!

Tomato Maintenance
If you are growing tomatoes in your greenhouse or tunnel and have fruit ripening on the lower trusses like these ‘Sungold’ above it is a good idea to remove the lower leaves to allow more light in to ripen the fruit. Your plants will also benefit from a high potash feed while fruiting which will help improve flavour. I find cutting back on watering a little now also improves the taste and will help avoid splitting fruit.

Green Manures
If you have any empty space in the garden that you don’t have earmarked for a follow on crop it is a good idea to sow some green manure now to protect the soil and help lock up nutrients. Many manures like Phacelia (below) also have very attractive flowers so add a dash of colour to the garden as well as looking after the soil.

Charlotte Winter Seed Potatoes
Charlotte are our new favourite new potato with impressive yields of delicious pale yelow potatoes.

Nicola Winter Potatoes
Long oval shaped tubers with yellow skin and a delicious waxy flesh ideal for boiling and salads.

Maris Peer Winter Seed Potatoes
Good yields of uniform small round and oval potatoes with white skin and flesh. The ultimate baby potato.

Green Manure Phacelia
Phacelia is good for smothering weeds and has an extensive root system which helps improve soil structure.

Green manure Winter Vetch
Fixes nitrogen and can be mixed with other green manures. The plants establish quickly suppressing weeds as it quickly forms an effective ground cover.

Green Manure Clover Mix
Clover is a handy fast growing green manure which is an excellent nitrogen fixer so perfect for adding some va va voom to your garden soil. It provides also excellent ground cover.

Vegetable Harvesting Basket
The oval vegetable basket is made from expertly handcrafted rattan. It is hard wearing and heavy duty and perfect for harvesting and storing freshly grown fruit and vegetables.

Woven Rush Basket
The old style rush weave gives this basket a wonderful natural feel while making a very strong yet light basket. It has a wide heavy duty handle for a comfortable grip when carrying.

Vegetable Harvesting Knife
The vegetable harvesting knife takes the hard work out of harvesting your crops. It has a comfortable timber handle and a long slender curved blade.

Joseph Bentley Cropping Knife
The Joseph Bentley Stainless Steel Cropping Knife has a stainless steel blade is curved with a serrated tip and made from high grade stainless steel to provide a more precise cut.

Beach Chair – Suffolk Stripe
Folding beechwood timber chair covered with ‘Suffolk stripe’ deckchair canvas. Perfect for lounging around the garden or bringing on outings.

Bistro Folding Metal Garden Bench
The Bistro Bench is a fold away metal garden bench from the Garden Trading range of garden furniture. Finished in clay colour powder coated steel.

What to plant in July

New potatoes

Plant some seed spuds now and you can get your own fresh, earthy autumn crop of delicious new potatoes. They’re easy to grow and rewarding to harvest – children will love to help.

  • Buy your seed potatoes by mail order (those for summer planting are kept in cold storage).
  • Use large (35cm) pots or old compost bags – cut the bags along the top (if you haven’t already), turn them inside out, roll over the tops so they stand upright, and pierce drainage holes in the bottom. Alternatively, buy special tall potato planters.
  • Half fill the containers with multipurpose compost (or, for economy, mix the compost with equal amounts of soil) and place them in a sunny, airy spot.
  • Plant the tubers about 5cm deep, one to a pot or three to a bag. They will quickly produce sturdy green shoots.
  • Keep adding more compost in stages to almost cover the shoot tips until the container is nearly full, then let the plants spread. Keep the full-grown plants well watered, and feed them regularly with a general-purpose fertiliser.
  • It takes only about 12 weeks for tubers to become golf ball-sized – delve into the bag and remove a few (this is the magic bit for kids), then leave the plant to produce more. When the foliage starts to die back as the weather gets cooler, simply tip out the compost and harvest the rest.

Varieties to try
‘Sarpo Una’ (from Thompson & Morgan) is resistant to blight, a disease that can turn leaves brown and rot the tubers.

Kale

Dwarf types of this winter crop are great value for a small plot. Their ornamental leaves make tasty and nutritious greens throughout the autumn, and are followed by sweet, tender shoots in spring.

  • Sow seeds thinly, 1cm deep, in rows 20cm apart across a bed. When the seedlings are a few centimetres tall, thin them (remove some) to leave the plants 20cm apart. Add the thinnings to salads or stir-fries.
  • Pigeons and caterpillars are the main enemies of kale – cover plants with a small (7mm) mesh net (from Harrod Horticultural) to prevent attacks from both these pests.

Varieties to try
‘Dwarf Green Curled’ and ‘Red Winter’ (both from The Organic Gardening Catalogue).

Parsley

Summer-planted parsley gives crisp leaves in autumn, and looks great in beds and pots.

  • Buy only small, young plants.
  • Plant them 30cm apart in a well-composted patch on the veggie bed, or in large (30cm) pots; water and feed plants in pots regularly.

Varieties to try
Any curled parsley. French (flatleaf) parsley has a stronger flavour, but grows more sparsely in pots than in the ground.

How Late Can You Plant Potatoes: seed to harvest

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Potatoes can be planted as soon as the ground becomes workable in early spring. Usually by mid February you can get out and prepare the soil for planting.

Potatoes will not grow until the soil temperature has reached 45F so when you plant them you will need to be patient until the soil warms to this temperature and beyond.

I always find an important thing to look for at planting time is that the soil is well drained and does not become waterlogged as the potatoes will rot if they are planted in water saturated soil.

How to grow potatoes

Before i begin to delve deep into this article, if you would like more information about growing your own potatoes, please read my article How to grow potatoes, This covers everything you need to know from planting, preparing seed, growing, harvesting and storage and more about this great vegetable.

What is the best soil for growing potatoes

I find the best soil for growing potatoes is a free draining deep loam soil high in organic material with a pH of 4.8 to 5.5. You should get a soil test done for NPK if you want to be sure of growing a good crop.

Clay soils are prone to waterlogging or drying out and a very sandy soil can also dry out quickly leading to scab on the potatoes. You can upgrade your soil by adding the minerals or soils you are lacking. For example if you have a very clay soil in your vegetable garden you could upgrade it by adding more shells, sand and organic material like manure or compost and rototill it through.

The shells and sand will help prevent the clay soil sticking in a mass and the organic material will help add nutrients and also fluff it up a bit.

Preparing seed potatoes for planting

Two to three weeks before I plant my seed potatoes in the ground, I put them into a wooden box and keep them somewhere warm – like a garage or shed.

Over the next couple of weeks small buds will appear on the seed potatoes which will grow and turn green. It is important to keep the seed potatoes in the light because if they are in the dark the buds will be white not green and they will be very fragile and easily broken.

Once the buds are ½” to 1” long they are ready to take out to the garden and plant.

Can you plant potatoes in the full

You may have read or heard people talking about cutting up potatoes to use for planting. The reason for this is usually to save money.

Normally one potato will have multiple buds on it- maybe 6 or more, so some people if they don’t have enough small whole potatoes (known as seed) they will cut up a large potato into 2,3 or 4 pieces which will give them 2,3, or 4 seeds from one potato.

There is no benefit to cutting large potatoes versus planting a single whole small seed – it is just about not wasting potatoes.

How deep do you plant potatoes in the ground?

Depending on where you will be planting your potatoes – I always advise planting potatoes in drills as they are less likely to become waterlogged than in a bed or a container.

I would dig down 4 to 6 inches (or the mid way point in the drill) and place the seed into the ground with the buds facing upwards and then gently fill in the loose soil back in over the potato.

How far apart should you plant potatoes?

I would plant the next potato along every 14 inches. The closer you plant your potatoes the smaller they will grow and the more space you give them the bigger they can grow. Of course there are limitations to this.

If you plant the potatoes every 24 inches you will be wasting ground and if you don’t have enough fertiliser or manure they won’t grow as big either.

You could have larger potatoes planted 14 inches apart on well fertilised soil and another drill of potatoes planted 16 inches apart and end up being smaller because they didn’t get enough fertilizer.

How long does it take to grow potatoes?

Usually from when a seed potato is planted it takes around 100 -120 days for the crop to be ready to harvest and eat. There are exceptions to this generality such as: The time of planting- if you have planted your potatoes early in the year before the ground temperatures are above 45F you will be waiting longer for the crop to grow than if you planted in Mid April when the temperatures are much higher and the seed is going into warmed soil.

Also if the crop is going into a well fertilised field it may grow for longer than if it went into a poorer fertilised field but this is not what you should want.

You should plant your crop in relation to when you want it. For example if you want early potatoes you should get them planted early in the year (February – March) and if you want main crop you should plant them in (April – May)

How late can you plant potatoes?

I would advise against planting potatoes later than the start of July as that could take your growing season into November which may not be a good idea as it will be colder and wetter depending on where you live. The weather may lead to problems for the potatoes such as not getting the chance to bulk out and water logging or frost.

Can you grow potatoes all year round?

In some milder climates potatoes can be planted in the fall and harvested in the spring, but I would start by getting used to growing potatoes at normal times of the year first before trying this, as growing potatoes can be high maintenance and involve a lot of supervision. Once you get the hang of it you will be aware of the various ups and downs associated with growing this great vegetable and you will feel more confident about trying new methods and timings.

When to harvest new potatoes

New potatoes or Early potatoes are usually harvested in June or July these will have been planted in February or March and Maincrop potatoes are usually ready in September which will have been planted in April- May. You can get a idea of when to harvest potatoes when you see the flowers appearing on the plants.

When will the potatoes be ready?

It is usually 2 to 3 weeks after these flowers leave the plant for early varieties before they begin to be ready. Although they will be big enough they will have very thin skin and may taste “watery”. It is better to let the crop mature and get a good skin on the potato, by this time the potatoes will be cracking in their skin and be much more flowery or dry to eat and be much more flavourful.

The same goes for maincrop potatoes -it is a little longer to reach maturity but if you let them mature well you will have much nicer potatoes to eat. The other thing to remember is that you should let the potatoes get a good skin on them if you are intending to harvest for storage.

When potatoes are ready to eat it is hard not to harvest them all right away if you are excited and it is your first time growing potatoes. This is a bad idea as the potatoes may rot as they haven’t fully matured and got their thick skin yet.

It is better to dig what you need for your dinner and leave the remainder in the ground to mature. In summertime it is also too hot to dig potatoes for storage, so you would be much better to let the potatoes stay in the ground until the autumn and the weather gets cooler and the potatoes have matured. Now it is a good time to harvest your crop before the bad weather comes and the frost ruins your potatoes.

How to harvest potatoes

When the weather has cooled in the autumn – usually by Halloween we try to get all the potatoes out of the ground before any hard frost comes and ruins our crop.

Try to pick a good dry day to harvest your potatoes so they are coming out of the ground dry. You don’t want to be digging your potatoes out of the soil dry and the rain coming on and soaking your potatoes and bags, as they will rot when you put them into the shed for storage.

Start at the end of the drill or bed and dig your garden fork in deep 3 to 4 inches away from where you think the potatoes are growing and then lift the full fork full of potatoes and soil out of the ground and tip it upside down on the soil.

This should break up the lump of soil with all the potatoes in it to make it easier for you to see where all the potatoes are. Then gather them into a hessian sack or a wooden box keeping as much soil out as possible. Next pull your fork through the soil you have just dug to check if you have missed any and then take another fork full and turn it upside down and repeat the process.

The knack to digging the potatoes without damaging any is to keep your fork well back and to go deep – below the level of the potatoes and then give it a good spread over the previously dug part you have just gathered. By the time you have a few bags dug you’ll be ready for your dinner!

Planted your potatoes yet? Read Toni Magean’s gardening column

LAST week I talked ‘Rhubarb’ as it’s the time to start forcing its growth for those early stems.

This week I’m talking potatoes, and yes, I know that the traditional time for planting potatoes is Easter! So, you will be thinking is it not a bit soon to be talking potatoes. Well, no! As you can see from my photograph this week, my seed potatoes have arrived and now is the time to get them ‘chitted’ or ‘geensprouting’ in readiness for planting, by doing so will reduce harvesting time by up to 14 days.

Chits are the growth when the potatoes eyes sprout. I’m sure you will have had potatoes when they sprout on their own in storage, normally producing a long white shoot when stored in the dark.

When chitting potatoes, they need to be laid out in a tray with the end that was attached to the plant at the base. As you can see from the photograph I have used a seed tray, though some people find egg boxes as a good alternative. The seed potatoes need to be stored somewhere warm and light, not in the dark.

Over the course of a few weeks, the potato eyes will begin to sprout and grow. Though you may also notice the seed potato itself beginning to shrivel. Not to worry as this is normal as the potato loses moisture. If the chits grow too quickly, move the seed potatoes to a cooler room. We are looking for the chits to be around 3cm long. Also, if growing different varieties of seed potatoes, then don’t be too surprise as the chits grow at different rates, again this is normal.

If you have not ordered your seed potatoes then pleased do so, particularly the extra early and first early varieties. I order on line as I’m not keen being from a shop where the seed potatoes have sat on the shelf for a while. Seed potatoes should be showing very little sign of growth when purchasing.

There are numerous seed potatoes varieties which can be put into six categories. Extra early, these are the first to be planted and ready to harvest end of May. First early, ready for harvesting June/July. Second Early, ready for harvesting July/August. Early maincrop, ready August. Late maincrop, ready September onwards, and finally second cropping, ready November/December.

So, choosing the right varieties means you can be harvesting potatoes over a long period. The early potatoes and second cropping potatoes are what we call new potatoes, where maincrop are the large potatoes. Interestingly, second cropping potatoes are second early potatoes which have been held in cold storage for August planting to have a crop of new potatoes for Christmas.

In my photograph you can see that I am preparing extra early varieties for chitting :- Abbot, Lady Christl and Rocket. Theses are dependable varieties that I have grown for a few years. I will also be growing Kestrel which is an exhibition and second early variety. I also enjoy the Jersey Royal new potato when in season. However, it can only be called a Jersey potato when grown and harvested in Jersey.

Though you can grow the exact same variety in your own garden, outside of Jersey the potato variety is know as ‘International Kidney,’ and is available from several online seed potato suppliers. Growing potatoes is not too difficult and are a good crop to grow when breaking in new land. They are however, greedy feeders and will do better in fertile soil with added organic matter. When planting potatoes, early varieties are planted more closely than maincrop counterparts, the bigger the further apart to plant. Maincrop potatoes will need on average 50% more room than new potatoes. One of the reasons as to why I don’t grow maincrop potatoes, the other is that maincrop potatoes are cheaper to buy. When growing early potatoes, remember they are frost tender, so when the shoots surface from below the soil, earth up to help protect the growth. They will be ready for harvesting when the potatoes begin to flower, and the foliage turns yellow. Potatoes always taste nicer when harvest fresh, though when allowed to dry for a day or so after harvesting, they are good for storing, keeping them cool, dark and dry.

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General Advice

Potatoes always do best in full sun. They are aggressively rooting plants, and we find that they will produce the best crop when planted in a light, loose, well-drained soil. Potatoes prefer a slightly acid soil with a PH of 5.0 to 7.0. Fortunately potatoes are very adaptable and will almost always produce a respectable crop, even when the soil conditions and growing seasons are less than perfect.

Always keep your potato patch weed-free for best results. Potatoes should be rotated in the garden, never being grown in the same spot until there has been a 3-4 year absence of potatoes.

When to Plant Potatoes

Potatoes may be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the early spring, but keep soil temperatures in mind. Potato plants will not begin to grow until the soil temperature has reached 45 degrees F. The soil should be moist, but not water-logged.

Potatoes can tolerate a light frost, but you should provide some frost protection for the plants if you know that a hard, late season freeze is coming. If you want to extend storage times, and have a long growing season, you can plant a second crop as late as June 15 and harvest the potatoes as late as possible.

Cutting Potatoes Before Planting

A week or two before your planting date, set your seed potatoes in an area where they will be exposed to light and temperatures between 60-70 degrees F. This will begin the sprouting process. A day or two before planting, use a sharp, clean knife to slice the larger seed potatoes into smaller pieces. Each piece should be approximately 2 inches square, and must contain at least 1 or 2 eyes or buds. Plant smaller potatoes whole. A good rule of thumb is to plant potatoes whole if they are smaller in size than a golf ball. In a day or so your seed will form a thick callous over the cuts, which will help prevent rotting.

Planting Potatoes in the Garden

We find that potatoes are best grown in rows. To begin with, dig a trench that is 6-8 inches deep. Plant each piece of potato (cut side down, with the eyes pointing up) every 12-15 inches, with the rows spaced 3 feet apart. If your space is limited or if you would like to grow only baby potatoes, you can decrease the spacing between plants.

To begin with only fill the trench in with 4 inches of soil. Let the plants start to grow and then continue to fill in the trench and even mound the soil around the plants as they continue to grow. Prior to planting, always make sure to cultivate the soil one last time. This will remove any weeds and will loosen the soil and allow the plants to become established more quickly.

How to Water Potatoes

Keep your potato vines well watered throughout the summer, especially during the period when the plants are flowering and immediately following the flowering stage. During this flowering period the plants are creating their tubers and a steady water supply is crucial to good crop outcome. Potatoes do well with 1-2 inches of water or rain per week. When the foliage turns yellow and begins to die back, discontinue watering. This will help start curing the potatoes for harvest time.

When to Harvesting Potatoes

Baby potatoes typically can be harvested 2-3 weeks after the plants have finished flowering. Gently dig around the plants to remove potatoes for fresh eating, being careful not to be too intrusive. Try to remove the biggest new potatoes and leave the smaller ones in place so they can continue to grow. Only take what you need for immediate eating. Homegrown new potatoes are a luxury and should be used the same day that they are dug.

Potatoes that are going to be kept for storage should not be dug until 2-3 weeks after the foliage dies back. Carefully dig potatoes with a sturdy fork and if the weather is dry, allow the potatoes to lay in the field, unwashed, for 2-3 days. This curing step allows the skins to mature and is essential for good storage. If the weather during harvest is wet and rainy, allow the potatoes to cure in a dry protected area like a garage or covered porch.

Storage Conditions

At Seed Savers Exchange. we are able to store potatoes well into the spring in our underground root cellar. Try to find a storage area that is well ventilated, dark, and cool. The ideal temperature is between 35 and 40 degrees F. Keep in mind that some varieties are better keepers than others. Varieties like Red Gold and Rose Gold are best used in the fall, and others like Carola and Russets are exceptional keepers.

Saving Seed Stock

Home gardeners can save seed for several generations. Save the very best potatoes for planting. You may find that after several years the size begins to decrease; this is typical. Potatoes are very susceptible to viruses. If you are looking for maximum yields it is best to start with fresh, USDA Certified Seed Stock every year.

In collaboration with University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers, SSE is working to eradicate viruses from heritage potatoes in order to safely preserve potato genetic diversity and to offer high quality seed potatoes.

Frequently Asked Questions About Growing Potatoes

Written by Hillary Heckler, Country Farm and Home

Few crops are as rewarding to grow as potatoes. From watching their little eyes open and emerge from the soil after planting to peaking around the base of the plants to see the first tubers forming to finally harvesting a bountiful crop of fresh potatoes…no matter if it’s your first or 50th crop the whole process is magical. Got questions? We’ve got answers….

Dear Tater Whisperer:

What is a ‘seed’ potato?

With the exception of plant breeders, we propagate potatoes vegetatively or asexually; potatoes of the same variety are genetically identical to their parents. So, the ‘seed’ that you’ll find to grow potatoes looks like, well, a potato. However, there are some significant differences that separate seed potatoes from the ones you find in the grocery store.

First, most potatoes in the grocery store have been treated with a sprout-inhibitor that prevents the potatoes’ eyes from developing while in storage and on the shelf. Seed potatoes are NEVER treated with sprout inhibitors. This alone can be the difference between growing potatoes successfully or not.

Second, any seed potatoes you buy should be CERTIFIED DISEASE FREE. Potatoes intended to be sold for seed are tested for a panel of diseases before receiving a government-issued ‘disease-free’ certificate. Any seed lots that test positive are not certified and are not sold. Without this assurance, you could unknowingly introduce diseases into your crop and your soil that could persist for many years. So, if you like growing potatoes, don’t risk planting seed from questionable sources because there’s no way of knowing what else you’ll be planting.

Can I save my own seed from my potato crop?

I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not so much that it can’t be done, it’s that it can’t be done well here in the Southeast without incurring some significant risks. Risks include transmitting diseases from saved seed to the next crop and losing your seed crop in storage because the tubers are not technically mature.

Seed potatoes have been grown to physical maturity meaning they were cured in the ground before harvest and are able to be stored successfully to produce next year’s crop. You’ll notice that most seed potatoes come from northern latitudes like Colorado, Idaho and Maine. These climates have the kind of weather potatoes need to produce high quality, disease-free seed crops.

The potatoes we grow in the Southeast are considered ‘new’ potatoes, regardless of size, because they’re being harvested off plants that are still alive. These ‘new’ potatoes have very fragile skins, are easily damaged and will not cure in the ground due to the heat of summer soils. Lucky for us, we’re just in it for the goods and can still enjoy quality potatoes for food if not for seed.

What kind of fertilizer should I use with potatoes and how much?

GET A SOIL TEST before adding anything to your soil. Like salting a soup, once the salt’s in, you can’t take it out. The same principle applies to amending agricultural soils. How do you know what you need if you don’t know what you have? Soil testing will answer those questions and provide amendment rate recommendations based on your results. North Carolina offers free soil testing from April to November; from December to March soil tests are $4.00 per sample, which is still a bargain. Stop by your local Cooperative Extension office or Country Farm & Home to get soil sample boxes and instructions on how to take a soil sample.

Potatoes prefer the following conditions:

  • pH: between 5.0 – 6.5; lower pH will minimize potato scab
  • Soil that has been prepared & amended with compost & Macronutrients (Phosphorus & Potassium) the following Fall
  • No actively decomposing green matter!
  • Do not plant into soil that has recently been in sod or pasture, within the last 3-12 months. Wire worms reside in sod & can ruin your crop with their feeding. Just wait until the grass is gone & you’ve worked the space with tillage to disrupt their life cycle.

Potatoes need to eat, too!
Potatoes will remove the following soil nutrients per 1,000 sq. ft. or per acre.

These numbers represent 100% pure N-P-K; keep in mind that when you look at soil amendments, the numbers you see represent the percent N, P, or K in that bag. For example, a 50# bag of (10-10-10) has 5# each of N-P-K; the remainder of the weight is comprised of materials that are not N, P or K.

You’ll need to replace these nutrients with amendments, mulches, compost or composted manure regularly. Monitor your soil health and fertility with regular soil testing and use the soil test recommendations to help you figure out what you need to add and in what quantity.

Further Investigations for the curious:
Follow this link for an explanation of soil macro and micronutrients, what they provide to the crop and how deficiencies exhibit themselves in the plant.

How much should I plant?

How much do you want to eat or sell? Start with a desired poundage and work backwards if space isn’t an issue or start with the space you have available and calculate how much seed you’ll need to purchase.

Here are the basic details so you can figure out how much you want to grow…

Seed Potato Weight:

1 ½ – 2 oz.
Small seed potatoes can be planted as-is
Larger seed potatoes need to be cut into several pieces

Number eyes per seed piece:

At least one, more is better
Plant seed with eyes facing up

1 pound seed plants 6’– 8’ bed

Plant Spacing:

8”-12” between standard varieties
12”-16” between fingerling varieties
Planting closer yields smaller potatoes
Planting further apart yields larger potatoes

Yield: 1:10 seed weight to pounds of crop harvested

If grown in well balanced soil, Potatoes will typically produce on a 1:10 ratio of pounds of seed planted to pounds of potato crop harvested. If your yields are higher, great job!! Your soil’s in great shape & the taters are thanking you with their abundance. If your yields are lower, it could be a varietal characteristic or an indication that something is out of balance in your soil. GET A SOIL TEST to help you figure out what’s deficient in your soil so you can amend for your next plantings.

How do you plant potatoes?

2-6 Weeks Before Planting:
Potatoes prefer soil that has been amended in the Fall with your amendment(s) of choice &/or compost. Some growers will cover crop spring potato beds with Canola/Rape, oats or barley_ something that will hold the soil over the winter but be easy to kill and incorporate before planting their potatoes. Other growers prefer to leave spring potato beds fallow and weed-free for ease of getting into the field as early as possible. Whatever bed preparation method you choose, potatoes DO NOT like to be next to actively decomposing green matter. Leave time between tillage and planting to allow green matter to break down; 2-6 weeks is a good time frame.

2 Weeks Before Planting:
In the southeast, we typically plant our potatoes in March. Consider waking up your potatoes in mid-February by green-sprouting them for several weeks before planting. Place whole seed potatoes one or two layers deep in a box then leave them in a warm_60-85 degrees_ dark place to encourage their eyes to pop. Be careful when handling them to avoid breaking off sprouted eyes.

Time to plant!! The day of:

Prepare Seed:
Seed potatoes that are 1 ½ – 2 oz. do not need to be cut. Seed over 2 oz. can be cut into smaller pieces; think the size &/or weight of an egg as your goal. Try to have at least 2 eyes per seed piece; one will do if that’s all you can find. You can cut the potato any which-way to achieve this. Avoid cutting eyes if you can when making your cuts. Some folks like to let seed pieces dry before planting. This isn’t necessary, but you can if you’d like. Once your seed pieces are cut, you’re ready to plant.

Prepare Soil:
Dig a trench in your bed about 4”-6” deep; triangle or standard hoes work well. Lay seed pieces eyes-up in the trench at 8”-12” for standard potato varieties and 12”-16” for fingerling varieties. You may wish to lay drip tape into the trench next to your seed potatoes to conserve water and to ensure that any water you put out gets to your crop and not your weeds. Cover seed (and drip tape, if used) with several inches of soil and tamp lightly….and you’re done!

Why do you hill potatoes?

Just about everyone knows you should hill potatoes, but does everyone know why?

Hilling potatoes produces the following benefits:

Weed Management:

In the southeast, potatoes are grown from March to May-July, depending on varietal days to maturity. Y’all know what else is growing March to July….WEEDS!! Oh, the weeds… You’ll have to manage those any way, you might as well go on and hill those taters in the process. Hilling uproots weeds as you pull the soil up around the potato plants.

Quality Control:

There’s a very important reason we keep potatoes in the dark. If potatoes are exposed to sunlight, they will start to photosynthesize and produce a green pigment under the skin. This ‘greening’ IS TOXIC to anything that eats it!! It’s a great strategy for the potato to avoid being eaten but not so great for us if we plan on harvesting an edible crop. Hilling potatoes ensures that forming tubers are fully covered with soil and are protected from the sun’s rays. With that in mind, if you see any potatoes at the soil line, be sure to cover them promptly to prevent greening.

Drainage:

Potatoes need water, but they don’t need to be sitting in a puddle. Depending on the weather and your soil type, we can provide the potato plants with better drainage by periodically pulling up soil around the growing stems. Heavy rains will run off into the aisles and away from the potatoes.

Yield Increase:

This is by far the most interesting bit on potatoes…

Potatoes form two types of stems; one for above-ground growth, on which we see leaves; one for below-ground growth, on which we find tubers. By covering growing leaf shoots with soil, we are creating more below-ground stem. Once a portion of the stem is buried with soil, it will produce the tuber-forming stems that will then form potatoes. Cool, huh? A bit sneaky on our part, but fascinating to observe. This is also why you may notice different sized potatoes on your plants at harvest; the longer the underground stem was under the ground translates to larger potato size and your preceding hilling activites. You can hill your potatoes 1-3 times per season/crop. Just loosen surrounding soil in the bed and pull up around the leaves and stems. Try to hill before the stems grow too long and start to flop over. You should pull between 2”-6” new soil up around the plants each time you hill. At a certain point, your hills can’t get any taller; stop hilling & let the plants do their thing until harvest.

How much water do potatoes need and when?

Potatoes need different amounts of water at different times in order to produce to the best of their ability. Generally, potatoes need between 1-2 inches of water per week; this could be provided by rain events or you to make up the difference.

Water needs for your crop throughout its life goes a little something like this…

  • Planting to 30 days: Water needs not high or critical
  • 30-60 days: Water critical for vegetative growth and early tuber formation
  • 60-90 days: Water critical for tuber bulking
  • 90-120 days: Tops begin to yellow and die back. Water needed but not excessively before harvest

How do you know when potatoes are ready to harvest?

Different varieties of potatoes have different Days To Maturity (DTM). It’s best to identify the variety you are growing and its DTM to give you an idea of when your crop will be ready to harvest. Count the days from planting to figure out target harvest dates per potato variety.

You can always dig around a bit to see how things are coming along. Generally, new potatoes will be present by day 60; they will be small and fragile. You can take a few if you just can’t wait any longer!! Most varieties will have good-sized tubers that are ready to harvest by 90 days.

In the Southeast, soils get too hot in the summer to grow great potatoes. Varieties with DTM beyond 120 days is not advisable. Shoot to have all your taters up by the end of July at the latest for best quality.

How do you harvest potatoes?

Dig, baby, dig!!

If you are growing on a small-scale, nothing is more rewarding than digging up your potato crop by hand. A digging fork or a broad fork work very well.

Start along the far edges of your bed so not to skewer your taters. Loosen soil around the mound and unearth your beauties.

Let potatoes dry off on the bed top for no more than 30 minutes or so before collecting them gently into boxes or bins. Skins will be fragile and easily damaged at this point.

Consider collecting your potatoes into the bins or boxes you intend to store them in to minimize the number of times you have to handle them. Also consider grading them in the field into various sizes before boxing them; smaller potatoes will dehydrate sooner than larger ones; having them graded makes it easy use the ones that will not hold very long first.

Store all potatoes in a cool dark place until you are ready to eat them or sell them. A light-free storage place is critical to keep potatoes from ‘greening’. DO NOT EAT green potatoes; they contain a toxin that is detrimental to the central nervous system. Any green potatoes should be discarded. No green? No problem.

How long will my harvest store?

Keep in mind that potatoes grown in the Southeast will likely be harvested before the scorching heat of summer and will not get a chance to cure in the ground. This means skins will be very fragile and the potatoes will not keep as long as those that are allowed to fully mature and cure in the ground. You can expect Southeastern crops to store 1-3 months, depending on variety, potato size and storage conditions. Past 3 months, potatoes may start to dehydrate and deteriorate in quality.

What’s eating my potato plants?!? & What can I do about it?

Pest management starts before the pests show up and continues long after the crop is harvested. Understanding what pests like, need and are attracted to will help you manage them in your garden or farm.

The general principles of pest management include:

  • Don’t give them what they need_ rotate crops so over-wintered adults will not emerge to find their favorite crop waiting for them
  • Scout!! 2 isn’t a problem; 2,000 is a problem. There’s a chance that beneficial insects will help you manage your insect pests, so don’t grab the big guns until you really need them.
  • Identify most vulnerable life stage(s) of pest to be most effective with treatment options_ egg, larvae, pupa, adult
  • Hand-collect or Crush_ Adults, eggs & larvae as much as is feasible while you are scouting to get a feel for whether or not you need to treat the crop.
  • Treat Crop with Appropriate Pesticide_ Choose the right product for the right pest. Be aware of inadvertent effects of using pesticides on other insect or animal populations. Target problem areas and apply just what’s needed to treat that space/crop.

For Potatoes, the most common insect pests are Colorado Potato Beetles & Click Beetles/Wire Worms.

Colorado Potato Beetles feed on potato foliage as larvae and can really do some damage on the upper parts of young potato plants, sometimes wiping out your planting if nothing is done to control them.
Organic control options include:

  • Hand pick adults & larvae; crush them, throw them into water to prevent them from flying away &/or feed them to chickens
  • Crush Eggs; check under-sides of leaves
  • Spinosad Products; if your CPB population gets out of control, Spinosad sprays are extremely effective at knocking back larval populations. Spinosad is a bacterium that affects insect’s nervous systems resulting ultimately in death.

Wire Worms & Click Beetles are one in the same; the wire worm is the juvenile stage of the adult Click Beetle. For some species of wire worms, it can take 5 years to become an adult click beetle! Wire worms feed underground on newly sprouted seeds and stems. Click beetles feed on pollen, nectar and other insects like aphids. Hummmm, this larval ‘pest’ has its merits as an adult. Let’s work with the wire worm. Highest concentrations of wire worms are found in sod or lawns. By avoiding planting potatoes into areas recently in sod, we can effectively avoid the wire worm’s negative effects on our crops. Just wait. It’s as easy as that!

How to grow: Potato

At a glance

Ease of culture: Moderate
Where: All regions
Best climate: Cool to warm conditions
When: Spring, summer, autumn in cool areas, winter in warm to hot areas
Spacing: 25-30cm
Harvest: 3-5 months
pH: 5-6

Climate

• Potatoes prefer cool mild conditions with daytime temperatures between 15-20° C
• They grow best in cooler areas, planted in spring (after last frost) and late summer/early autumn.
• If living in hot climates, grow through the cooler months – plant autumn-winter

Position

• Find a spot with full sun (at least 6 hours per day) and protection from strong winds

Box: Seed Potatoes

Start your crop with the very best planting material. Don’t plant spuds bought from the supermarket or green grocer. Instead, plant ‘seed potatoes” that are certified virus-free. This avoids the potential of introducing a nasty virus to your soil and assures you the best potential harvest. Certified seed potatoes are available from nurseries and produce stores or try mail-order companies, where you’ll find the greatest range of varieties.

Preparing planting stock

• Expose seed potatoes to light (not direct sun) before planting to encourage them to shoot
• Large seed potatoes can be can be sliced to create more planting stock – just be sure each section has at least one shoot. Let them sit for a few days to allow the cut surfaces to dry before planting or they may rot.

Planting

The traditional way to grow potatoes is in the soil, but you can also grow them in containers or a no-dig garden.

In the soil

• Use a garden fork to loosen the soil to a spade’s depth, and then dig in plenty of compost or well-rotted manure – at least 2 bucketfuls per square metre.
• To improve drainage, mound the soil in planting rows with centres 40-50cm apart
• Dig narrow trenches along the centre of the mounds 10-20cm deep
• Place seed potatoes along the trenches 25-30cm apart, shoots facing upwards
• Cover the seed potatoes with a 10cm layer of soil and water in well.

Box: Hilling for better returns

As the potato shoots begin to grow above the soil surface, gradually cover them with soil. This process, known as hilling, encourages the plants to form more roots along the buried stems on which more potatoes will form, increasing overall yield.

No-dig method

• Find a spot in the garden where the ground is well drained
• Mark out a growing area – 1.2m x 1.2m is a good size to start, or go bigger
• Cover the area with 6-7 sheets of newspaper, overlapping the edges to smother the weeds and grass. Wet it to stop it blowing away.
• Place your seed potatoes on the surface, 25-30cm apart.
• Cover the potatoes with thin layers of compost, and other organic materials like well-rotted manure, sawdust, old grass clippings, and dry leaves – whatever you’ve got. Water each layer as you build it up to a final depth of 20cm.
• Add more layers as the potatoes grow and the materials break down. After a month or so, add a final layer of straw 10-15cm thick.

Container method

• Choose a big container – at least 30cm wide and deep – the bigger, the better.
• Plastic pots are good, old laundry tubs, wheel barrows or even old hessian bags – whatever you choose, ensure it has adequate drainage holes.
• Prepare your growing medium. Potting mix is okay, but a 50/50 blend of potting mix and compost is better.
• Tip a 10cm layer of growing medium into your container, then lay your seed potatoes on the surface, 25-30cm apart, with the shoots pointing upwards.
• Cover the seed potatoes with another 10cm layer of growing medium and water the mix well.
• As the shoots develop, gradually cover the stem with more mix – up to an additional 40cm deep.
• Finally, cover the mix with a mulch of straw to help hold in moisture

Watering and fertilising

• Attention to watering is critical. Lack of adequate moisture with result in a poor crop whereas too much water will cause tubers to rot. Maintain a regular soil moisture level – it should feel slightly damp to touch, not soggy.
• Fertilising your potato crop will provide better returns. Give plants a light application of an all-purpose organic fertiliser after planting. Follow up with another application after six weeks.

Harvesting

• You can start to harvest potatoes any time after about 8 weeks, by digging around plants while they’re still growing and grabbing a few new or small potatoes.
• The longer the plants are left to grow, the bigger the potatoes will grow.
• The best time to complete harvesting is when the tops have died down – and no more tubers will develop.
• Use a garden fork to gently loosen the soil to reveal the potatoes – be careful not to stab them
• Let them dry on the ground before brushing off excess soil ready for storing (do not wash them – this shortens storage time)
• Store in a dark airy space
• Eat damaged spuds first.

How to Grow Potatoes in a Plastic Bin

You’ll never taste better potatoes than ones you’ve grown yourself, but if you’re put off by the amount of valuable planting space they take up, here’s a simple solution: grow them in an old bin on your patio, balcony, or wherever there’s a sunny corner in your garden. Here’s how to get a bumper harvest of spuds from a humble black bin.

Choose your potato

Growing your own potatoes allows you to experiment with tasty, lesser known varieties
Image source: wikipedia

Potatoes tend to generate a lot of foliage, so if you don’t have much space, you’ll want to choose ‘early’ potatoes which don’t get quite as bushy as the larger main crop varieties. Jersey Royals used to be one of the most popular ‘early’ options but now there are many more to choose from. Try Maris Peer which combines depth of flavour with being easy to grow. Fancy something a little more unusual? Try the Red Duke of York, a pink skinned potato with a light fluffy texture.

Alternatively, go for a maincrop potato which is harvested slightly later and stores well over the winter. Maris Piper is a great all-rounder – a good choice for beginners, it crops well and produces a larger, great tasting spud you can mash, roast, boil or bake. Desiree is another excellent choice, especially if you love your potatoes baked. Alternatively, the Purple Peruvian, also known as the “Gem of the Andes” is purple all the way through and is ideal boiled, baked or fried.

Chit your potatoes

Chit your seed potatoes in an egg carton with the ‘rose end’ or ‘eyes’ facing up
Image source: flickr/ infobunny

Buy seed potatoes from a reputable retailer and you’re virtually guaranteed they’re disease free and will be strong sprouters. Before planting you need to “chit” them.

Take an old egg box and place a seed potato, eyes facing up, into each of the cardboard cups. Put the potatoes somewhere reasonably warm and light – like the kitchen windowsill or porch. Once the potatoes have sprouted, or “chitted”, rub off all but the two or three most vigorous sprouts.

When should I plant my seed potatoes?

Earlies should be eaten as soon as possible after harvesting for maximum flavour
Image source: unsplash

Once you’ve chitted your seed potatoes and the shoots are about 3cm long, they’re ready to plant. Container potatoes can be started a little earlier than those going into the ground, but RHS guidelines for when to plant seed tubers are:

  • First earlies: plant around late March (ready to lift in June and July)
  • Second earlies: plant early to mid-April (ready to lift in July and August)
  • Maincrops: plant mid- to late April (harvest from late August to October)

Prepare your bin

Place your chitted seed potatoes in your bin or ‘grow bag’ with the sprouts facing up
Image source:

Spuds aren’t particular about the bin you choose for them to grow in as long as there’s plenty of room for them to produce tubers, and crucially, there’s plenty of drainage. To achieve this, you need a drill and a big drill bit – 10mm ought to do it.

Now simply drill plenty of holes in the bottom of the bin and around its side to a height of about 10cm from the base. Place a layer of stones, hardcore or broken up polystyrene in the bottom of your bin to make drainage even better, and you’re ready to add a thick layer (approximately 4”) of quality general purpose compost.

Place your chitted seed potatoes into the soil with the sprouts facing up. As a rule of thumb, each potato needs 10 litres of volume in which to grow, so a standard 50l bin will take four or five seed potatoes. Cover the potatoes with another 4”–6” of the compost and water well.

Layer up

Top up the compost in your bin or ‘grow bag’ regularly as your plants take off
Image source:

Soon you’ll see a chunky shoot poking through the soil. Let it grow a few inches before covering it with soil until only the topmost leaves protrude. Known as “layering up” this helps to maximise your harvest by ensuring the plant grows right from the bottom to the top of your bin.

Remember to position your bin in a reasonably sunny spot, and water regularly (but without drenching the soil to the point where the developing tubers rot in the waterlogged compost).

Make sure that your developing potatoes remain well covered with soil and protected from sunlight. Light turns tubers green and green potatoes are poisonous.

Harvest time

‘Salad blue’ variety of potatoes beginning to flower
Image source:

You’ll know your potatoes are getting ready to harvest when the plants begin to flower. You can even check on progress by carefully rummaging in the soil and feeling how big the tubers are getting.

Some people like to take a few potatoes while they’re small and tasty, leaving the rest to mature – others prefer to wait until the foliage dies away before tipping out the bin and harvesting all at once.

With maincrops for storage, wait until the leaves turn yellow, then cut and remove them. Leave for 10 days before harvesting the tubers, leaving them to dry for a few hours before storing. However you time your cropping, always store your harvest in a paper or hessian sack and put it somewhere cool and dark.

Do you have any tips for growing potatoes in containers? We’d love to hear from you if you do. Just head over to our Facebook page and leave us a message.

Lead image: Melica/

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In order to grow potatoes in containers, you will need a few things:

  • Seed potatoes
  • Container
  • Potting soil
  • Fertilizer
  • Sun and water

The Seed Potatoes

You can grow potatoes from “seed” potatoes. These potatoes have not been sprayed to stop their seeds from sprouting, so they’re ready for new growth. Seed potatoes are available from nurseries or specialty, organic growers such as Wood Prairie Farm, which has a great selection of interesting varieties.

You can also grow potatoes from organic potatoes from the store. These should not have been sprayed and you simply need to let them sprout in a cool, dark place.

The Container

It is possible to grow potatoes in any large container, from large pots or nursery containers to big garbage cans. Even trash bags or stacks of tires will do, though you have to be cautious about these because they can get very hot in the sun. Also, the jury is still out on the potential toxicity of some plastics and rubber, which might leach into the soil as the material breaks down.

Another great option is to plant potatoes in a “potato condo.” It is a homemade box created with wood planks that you build up as the plants grow and you add more soil. This is an inexpensive vertical gardening technique that will maximize your potato yield and can be done in a very small space.

Whatever you use for a container, make sure it has good drainage. If it doesn’t come with drainage, make sure to add some by creating holes in the bottom.

Smart Pots are a fantastic option for potatoes as well. These growing containers are lightweight, environmentally friendly, and made of fabric, so your potatoes get air as they grow. They also have great natural drainage, ensuring your potatoes will never sit in water and rot.

The Potting Soil

Use a high-quality potting soil that is fast draining, especially if you’re using a plastic container. Organic soils are always a good choice as well. If you are using a Smart Pot, you can use a garden soil mixed with compost.

The Fertilizer

Mix an organic, slow-release fertilizer into the potting soil when planting your potatoes. As the potatoes grow, it is a good idea to use a diluted liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion every couple of weeks.

Sun and Water

Potatoes will not grow without sun and water. Place your container where it will receive at least six to eight hours of sun a day.

Your potatoes also need consistent water and you will need to be observant about maintaining a perfect balance. You want to keep the soil moist, but not wet. If the soil is too dry, the plants will die; if it’s too wet, the potatoes will rot. If the moisture level is inconsistent, your spuds will be misshapen.

The nice thing about containers is that you can visibly see when you’ve watered deeply enough. Simply watch for water to seep out of the container’s bottom and you’ll know that they have a sufficient amount of water.

Now that most households have a wheelie bin there is a surplus of black plastic dustbins which make an ideal container for growing potatoes. If you don’t have one they are relatively cheap to buy and will last many years.

Below is a step by step guide to turning a dustbin into a potato bin. It takes less than 20 minutes to cut holes in the bottom of the bin, fill with growing medium and plant the potato tubers.

Tips
1. Wash out a used bin, remember you will be using it to grow food so do not use bleach or harsh chemical cleaners.

2. You can use any variety of potato but some are known as being good for container growing e.g. Charlotte. I used Anya, a small salad variety and Sarpo Mira a main crop variety noted for its excellent resistance to potato blight.

3. Do not be tempted to use garden soil in the bin as it will ‘slump’ to a heavy dense mass. Start with either home made or bagged peat free compost e.g J Arthur Bowers New Horizon. You can use a mix of compost and soil to fill the bin as the spuds grow but keep it light and free draining.

4. Potatoes and tomatoes are from the same plant family and are equally susceptible to blight which is an airborne fungal disease. Keep the spuds away from tomatoes if possible to avoid cross contamination. If you do get blight on the spuds cut off and destroy the tops, do not compost.

5. Do not use the compost/soil from the bin for either potatoes or tomatoes again or spread it on soil where either will be grown.

6. Potatoes need a lot of water so in summer make sure you water regularly from a water butt if you have one.

6. Spuds are also heavy feeders so you will need to feed with a good organic fertiliser. Home made comfrey liquid is ideal. To see how to make it click here and here. It is also possible to buy ready made supplies.

For updates on how a trial of this has progressed see this page

If your dustbin has been used give it a good clean out with plain water.

Drill some holes in the bottom for drainage.

The number, size and location of holes are not that critical, just make sure the water does not sit in the bottom of the bin.

Cover the holes with netting or other material that will keep the compost in but let the water drain freely. This is a piece of scrap Mypex (woven polypropylene) that is often used for weed control.

Cover the net/Mypex with gravel, grit or broken pot ‘crocks’. I had some used expanded clay pebbles to hand but I would not advise buying these as they are not ‘organic’ as they need huge amounts of energy to manufacture.

Add 2-4 inches (5-10cms) of compost and place 4 or 5 tubers on top with the shoots (chits) or ‘eyes’ facing upwards.

Cover with 4-8 inches (10-20cms) of compost and water well. As the tops of the spuds grow cover with compost or a compost/soil mix up to about 2-3inches (5-8cms) of the rim as you will need space for watering. Some people use a perforated plastic pipe down the middle to ensure even watering though the whole depth of the bin.

Two completed bins in the polytunnel. They will be moved outside when the tomatoes are planted in the tunnel beds.

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