We all love the small and tasty early potatoes. But what are early potatoes? How are they different from other potatoes?

What is an early potato?

It's all in the name. Potatoes are grouped into three types according to how early (quickly) they are planted and ready to eat. So, early potatoes are planted early, and eaten early. Simple! And here’s my simple guide to what to do when with the three types of potato.

Earlies or First-earlies Second-earlies Maincrop
Chit’ indoors (put them somewhere light and airy until they grow shoots) February to March February to March No need!
Plant outdoors March to April April, a week or two after earlies Late April, early May a week or two after second-earlies
Harvest May to July June to September September to November or the first bad weather and hard frosts
Store Just eat them fresh! Eat fresh and store some, but not for long In a cool, dry place well into the winter.
Some favourite varieties Rocket (the name says it – it grows fast)


Pentland Javelin (an old favourite that is good for salads)


Charlotte (the salad potato of choice)


Estima (good for baking in summer)


King Edward (good for roasting and baking)


Pink Fir Apple (this quirky fellow has tasty, long nobbly tubers that keep well into winter)

early potatoes

Early potatoes are ideal to grow in pots and purpose made 'potato bags'. Buy seed potatoes in garden centres and try it - now! Sarah Buchanan

Plant early potatoes now in containers

Half to three quarters fill a large (at least 38cm round) flower pot, container or bag with a mix of multipurpose and John Innes No 3 potting compost.

  • When shoots on ‘chitted’ potatoes are about 6mm long, rub off all but three or four good looking shoots on each potato and plant three potatoes about 13cm deep in the container.
  • Keep the container in a very light and sheltered spot (a greenhouse is perfect or a sunny corner of your patio).
  • As the potatoes’ leaves show, cover them with the mix of compost until the pot is full.
  • You may need to hold (‘stake’) the leaves up with a framework of the cuttings and prunings you use to prop up flowering plants in your borders.
  • When the leaves start to turn yellow and brown, or about 10 to 12 weeks after you planted them get ready to cook!
  • ‘Lift’ the potatoes gently by putting a small fork deep under the leaves and lifting up the lovely fresh tubers underneath.

Plant early potatoes in your garden (from early to mid April)

Any soil will do but potatoes like a rich soil so, if you can, add well rotted garden compost to the soil before you start. It’s easy, and the same approach for each type of potato.

early potatoes

Plan ahead and plant in April to May for a crop of second-earlies in your garden. Sarah Buchanan

    • Use a hoe or trowel to draw a line where you want to plant them.
    • Along the line dig out a shallow trench about 13 cm deep.
    • Pop a potato in at intervals: 30cm apart for earlies, 38cm apart for other types and if you have more than one row make the rows 60 com apart for earlies and 75 cm apart for other types.
    • Cover the potato with soil dug out to make the trench.
    • When leaves are about 15cm high or a frost is forecast, sweep earth up and over the leaves from outside the trench (this is called ‘earthing up’). This stops light (which would turn the potatoes green and inedible) reaching them so take care not to expose the potato tubers to light. Create the shape of low mounds not alpine peaks.
    • Keep earthing up as more leaves show until…
    • When the leaves go yellow brown, gently put your fork deep down under the dying leaves and lift… lovely fresh potatoes (read our blog on how to do it).
    • Run to the kitchen, cook and enjoy with melted butter and fresh parsley.

Have fun and enjoy the wonderful flavour of your own home grown 'earlies'. There really is nothing like it!