To avoid introducing pests and diseases into your crop, buy good quality, certified seed potatoes and start 'chitting' them as early as possible. This process encourages the tubers to produce strong, sturdy sprouts and gives an earlier maturing crop.
This is what you do:
Store the seed tubers in a light, cool (10°C), frost free spot and leave them to sprout. This is known as chitting. Place the tubers rose end up (the end where the tiny buds can be seen), in a clean box or tray. An egg box would be ideal, or a fruit tray from a supermarket ( the thick card ones are good!)
If you have more than one variety, label the box ( :-) )
Keep in a cool dark place.
When you see tiny shoots appearing move the tubers to a cool (8-10°C), light place.
Potatoes in the ground.
Dig in well-rotted manure or garden compost (apply no more than one wheelbarrow-full of well-rotted strawy manure, or two of compost, per 10 sq metres of ground) Plant tubers into trenches or in individual holes, 7-15cm in depth, cover with soil. See spacings below:
I make a shallow trench and then dig a hole for each tuber in the trench, this gives me soil to earth up the growing plants as required.
I use a shovel of my home made compost in each of the holes with a tuber in, plus a scoop of wood ash and a scoop of organic "Rooster" chicken manure (available from the Organic Gardening Catalogue).
1st early – 28-36cm apart, 38-50cm between rows.
2nd early & maincrop – 36-45cm apart, 65-75cm between rows.
Potato planting can start from mid March in milder areas, where frost is rare. If the soil is slow to warm, wait until April or May, or protect early plantings with fleece or cloches.
I have been very busy planting spuds, I have already got the Earlies (Orla , Rocket ) in the ground and I got 2 rows of Early Maincrop in a few weks ago A really nice waxy salad potato called "Nicola" and also "Charlotte" which we have found keep as Maincrop really well.
Compostman dug over the ground for me and then I made some trenches and dropped each spud in a hole in the bottom of the trench, with some organic chicken poo pellets, wood ash and some grass clippings (they help prevent scab)
I then tucked the spuds up nice and warm with a good covering of soil....
Unfortunately various hens thought all this was purely for THEIR benefit and came along
and rather destroyed my nice earthing up ridges of soil in between the trenches, but hey ho...never mind...I can rebuild them. The chickens are meant to be fenced out of the area of the veg plot but someone left the gate open....
Every year we grow enough spuds to last us from late June/early July until the following May... so we only buy potatos for about a month or so every year.
But in 2007 we lost virtually all our Maincrop harvest to blight (oh what a surprise, after all the wet weather we had!)
We had to start buying potatoes in October!!
2008 was a bit better, because we had good weather in Feb and March I got the earlies and 2nd Earlies in, well..... early ;-)
so when the blight hit again, we had a good crop to harvest, which stored well.
Similar stuff in 2009 and 2010 so this year I am growing a lot more 2nd early varieties and only one maincrop varieties and they will be in bags and tubs away from the veg plot so if blight DOES hit us I can keep a physical distance between the maincrop and the potato patch.
I am really hoping that, this year
a) The weather is better, which it has been
b) Getting them in a bit earlier will help if we DO get blight again
c) I have spaced the rows out even further AND left a larger gap between each spud within the trench, so hopefully more air can get in between the potato plants.
d) I am not growing maincrop varieties ( apart from Desire) which need a longer growing season to mature and so are worst affected by blight.
Fingers crossed!! That all this will help and once again we will have a decent harvest.
BUT We have put a 50 m length of electric fence netting around the veg garden so the hens cannot get in to dig everything up...
and they were VERY miffed that they couldn't get in to flatten the potato ridges I have made HOWEVER hard they tried!!
Potatoes are very tolerent so IF you have some earlies or early maincrop I WOULD get them in the ground or a grow bag NOW....even if they don't have big shoots on them....you will get some harvest and it will taste yummy.