How about a pack of seed potatoes for your Valentine today? OK, not the usual gift, but anyone who loves a roast potato, or a summer salad with warm new potatoes topped with butter knows this gift promises the future!
So read on for ideas to grow this oh-so-easy vegetable in your garden, in a container on a patio or balcony so you can look forward to a scrumptious meal, with your Valentine, this summer!
It is not such a tenuous link to Valentine's Day because now is the time to start on your potato crop. If you have a frost-free garden frame or greenhouse, sheltered porch or shed with good light you can grow potatoes in indoor containers while frosts continue outside. And if not, from the third week of February is the time to start 'chitting' (read on!) potatoes for outdoors.
Buy ‘Class A Certified Seed potatoes’
These look like – and are - small potatoes. But they differ from the ones lurking in your veg. box. Seed potatoes are less likely to carry disease and more likely to produce a good crop than a left over potato bought to cook.
Choose seed potatoes that are even in size and shape, about the size of an egg, and are firm to touch.
Potatoes are classified (confusingly, I think) as earlies, first or second earlies, and maincrop.
These terms describe when the tubers are ready to harvest and eat and indicate when they are planted: earlies crop soonest after planting and are planted earlier than the others while maincrop stays in the soil longest, and is planted last. But if you plant ‘earlies’ early and later you can keep eating ‘earlies’ for longer! As I said: confusing.
- Firm and waxy: Charlotte
- A distinct taste, and a wiggly shape: Pink Fir Apple
- Floury texture: King Edward and Maris Piper
- Great for mash (and most uses): Desiree
- But for today, the choice must be 'Red Valentine' !
Prepare seed potatoes
‘Chitting’ is what gives seed potatoes a head start. Fill a tray or box with your seed potatoes sitting upright with the end with most nobbly bits (‘eyes’) at the top. Put the box or tray in a cool, light but not sunny place and wait. Small shoots will grow from the nobbles (eyes) - and you have ‘chitted potatoes’.
Chitting isn’t essential. If you don’t have room, don’t worry, the potatoes will grow.
Plant ‘chitted potatoes’ in indoor containers when the shoots are 1 to 3 cm long. Half fill a 20cm (8 inch) wide pot with good compost and gently pop the potato in, eyes pointing upwards. Cover it with a layer of compost. When shoots are coming through the compost, fill the pot up. Keep well watered but not waterlogged.
Plant chitted potatoes outdoors no earlier than the end of March, and ideally after the last frost. If you don’t know when that is try this calculator. If you can’t wait, or are unsure, cover your potatoes with horticultural fleece or plant them under cloches or tunnels.
No chitted potatoes? No problem. Treat un-chitted potatoes as if they were chitted, and wait a little longer for lunch!
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