Our Guide to Growing Seed Potatoes.
First Early, Second Early and Main Crop.....What's the difference?
First Earlies: A potato for early use, planted at the normal time and grown in the usual way. The early potatoes are the first to be dug and have soft skins, often called 'new potatoes', (expensive to buy in the shops) and are ideal for boiling and serving piping hot with melting butter on top. Ideal with salads and the Sunday roast!
Second Earlies: A potato that can be dug early like the 'first early' and used accordingly. Or they can be left in the ground to 'bulk up' i.e. grow to a good size, when their skins will thicken and harden. This is essential for the good storage of the tubers.
Main Crop: A potato that provides the main bulk of the crop. It is the last to be dug after the skins have set (thickened and hardened) so that the tubers will store well.
Chitting your Potatoes.
To give your potatoes a helping hand you can chit them prior to planting. Place them in a seed tray or egg tray with the bud end up to chit, keep them somewhere light, cool and frost free for a few weeks. A good chit is firm and green and will not knock off easily. Chitting speeds up growth and is particularly useful for encouraging the earliest possible crop.
Potatoes are easy! They will yield a worthwhile crop under a wide range of conditions. Traditional winter digging incorporating well rotted farmyard manure and trenching in more manure or fertilizer in Spring undoubtedly produces the goods but is hard work! Why not try for reasonable yields with less effort? Loams and light soils don't need digging. Natural organic manures or composts can be placed in contact with the seed potatoes in a shallow trench.
Earlies are planted 3" / 7.5cm deep, 12" / 30cm apart with about 18" / 45cm between rows.
Second earlies generally need a little more space while Maincrop varieties are traditionally planted 15" / 38cm apart with 27" / 68cm between rows. Large varieties like King Edward would benefit from even more room.
Once growing, earth up the rows 2 or 3 times using a draw hoe or rake before the foliage gets too extensive. This provides enough soil cover to prevent tuber greening and is very effective in controlling weeds. Make sure to water well in long dry spells.
First and Second earlies are ready about 9-12 weeks from planting. Open flowers,if present, indicate that the first tubers are present underneath. Main crops take 14 weeks or more to mature. After the foliage has died back naturally (or the cutting off of the foliage if blight has taken hold) leave the potatoes for 2-3 weeks in the ground to set firm skin, ready for storage. As soon as the skin is set lift the crop because the underground slugs are usually at their most active at the end of the season.