Potatoes like soil which is high in organic matter and nitrogen and prefer a slightly acidic soil with no lime. They can be useful for breaking up soil that has become compacted and also suppress weeds with their thick leafy growth.
Potatoes should always be grown from 'seed' potatoes that have been certified virus free. Choose small seed potatoes as large ones produce too many sprouts.
'Chit' your seed potatoes in early February by placing a single layer 'rose' end (ie the one with the most 'eyes') uppermost in boxes or trays.
Keep them in a light, airy, frost-free place. When the shoots are 2cm long, they are ready to plant either in open ground or in containers or potato bags.
Planting in Open Ground
When all chance of frost has passed, plant upright in holes or trenches 10-15cm deep. A deeper hole will help protect earlies from colder weather.
Earlies should be spaced 30-40cm apart with 45cm between rows, main crops need 40cm gaps with 75cm between rows.
As shoots start to appear, draw up the soil to protect new growth from frost and prevent exposure to light, which causes 'greening'. Green potatoes are poisonous.
First and second earlies can be harvested once flowers are fully open and tubers are around the size of hen's eggs - around 9-12 weeks respectively after planting.
Main crops can remain in the soil to bulk up for as long as the plants remain healthy, but look out for slug and wireworm damage. Allow foliage to die back naturally and harvest two to three weeks later - around 14-16 weeks after planting.
Salad varieties are harvested in mid-to-late summer.
Planting in Containers
Potatoes can be grown in multi-purpose compost in specially designed potato bags and sectional containers, but any large, deep container, can produce excellent results.
Covering shoots with compost at intervals encourages side shoots, which gives a greater yield.