One potato, two
Plant the versatile vegetable and it will multiply quickly
IT’S time to start planting potatoes. A few years ago, Peter Cundall’s vegie patch at the Hobart Botanical Gardens produced almost 200kg of spuds in a single bed two metres wide and four metres long.
They are really easy to grow. They need space, sunshine, and fertile, slightly acidic, well-drained soil. They grow pretty quickly – you will be harvesting potatoes in three or four months.
Cundall’s secret was to dig 200mm trenches about half a metre apart in beautifully rich soil. Before planting the spuds, he had grown a crop of green manure, and dug it into the soil. But if you aren’t quite that prepared, enrich your soil with some organic compost before planting.
Plant certified seed potatoes whole, or cut them into good-sized pieces, each of which should contain two or three eyes. Some experts recommend that you allow the cuts to dry for 24 hours or so before planting to reduce the risk of rotting. It’s also recommended that you don’t cut the seed into too many pieces, because if the pieces are very small they may rot instead of grow.
Plant the pieces with the eyes facing upwards, and cover them with about 10cm of soil or compost. As the vines grow, mound soil or compost and mulch around them to keep the developing tubers covered. Spuds will form between the seed piece and the surface of the soil, so you will get a better crop if you keep hilling the soil up around the plant as it grows. Ensure that you don’t bury the plant completely, and also that there is enough soil covering the growing potatoes so they don’t get exposed to sunlight and turn green. Keep the plants moist, but not soggy. Once they start to flower you can hunt for new potatoes, which are best washed and eaten immediately as they don’t store well. When the tops of the plants turn yellow and die it’s time to dig up the fully grown potatoes. To store, leave them unwashed and place them in a cool, dark, dry place.
If you don’t have room in the garden, try growing your spuds in a tower. Lay some newspaper on the ground, and put two tyres on top, or just make a cage to hold the potatoes and compost using chicken wire or something similar. Put some straw or sugar cane mulch and compost in the bottom, then add the seed potatoes, and cover with more compost and sugar cane. As the plants grow, add compost and sugar cane until you have a tower 80cm high. Harvest when leaves start to wither.
Beans, cabbage, horseradish, tansy, nasturtium, coriander and catnip are said to be good companions for potatoes. Keep potatoes away from tomatoes, sunflowers, pumpkins, squash and cucumbers, and don’t plant them in an area where you have had other solanaceous crops such as tomatoes, capsicum and eggplant in the last two years. Got a gardening question? Email ma[email protected]natbyron.com.au