How to Grow Potatoes: Growing Potatoes, Planting Potatoes & Storing Potatoes
How to Grow Potatoes :
There is much to be learned when you want to know how to grow potatoes, as follows:
Methods of Planting Potatoes
Methods of planting potatoes are many and varied. If the soil has not been previously dug then the tubers can be planted as the digging proceeds but this is only really feasible on a friable medium to light soil. On heavy soils every spadeful turned over will have to be well broken up with a fork and this means the whole clod of soil and not just the top surface.
Any organic matter added at this stage should be at least half decayed and put at the bottom of the trench and any fertiliser used sprinkled on top of this and then covered with about 3 or 4 inches of soil.
The object when planting potatoes, is to see that the sprouts, either upright or horizontal, are 3 inches below the finished soil level.
Potatoes are very susceptible to the slightest touch of frost and a late frost can ruin the whole crop. So when the tops appear, cultivate between the rows with a hoe or cultivator to destroy seedling weeds. This hoeing will also loosen the surface so that the soil can be drawn completely over the potato foliage to protect it.
This growth will not appear evenly in the rows, some tubers being more precocious than others, and for a time the area may look as if moles have been busy making hills. But it is important that a watchful eye should be kept on this early foliage and it should be covered as it appears, until all fear of frost is past. Incidentally, a draw or drag hoe is the best tool for this job.
Then the plants are about 6 inches high, give a dressing of potato fertiliser or a compound fertiliser containing potash at about 2 oz per metre of drill. Hoe this in with a Dutch hoe and two or three days later drag this soil with a draw hoe from the space between the rows up to the plants on each side. The object of earthing up or ridging is partly to support the hollow stems which are easily damaged by wind and partly to cover the bases of the stems on which the tubers are formed. This prevents the tubers from greening.
Other methods are to cover the space between the rows right up to the plants with straw or, alternatively, plant under black polythene. With main crop varieties a second earthing to increase the height of the ridge may be necessary. The ridge should not be drawn to a point but left with a ‘V’ so that rain can percolate down and not run off a steep-sided ridge.
There is no infallible way of seeing when the new potatoes are ready for digging. The early varieties, which mature more quickly, will be ready first. The fact that the plants may or may not be flowering is no indication either as this varies from one variety to another. The simplest and most elementary method of finding out when the tubers are ready, is to move away carefully some of the soil at the ridge with your hand and if you find two tubers which you consider big enough to eat then you can begin to lift.
Only practice will determine how close you should place the fork to avoid stabbing the tubers, but probably the best way is to put it in between the plants and then throw the soil and tubers forward. Make sure all the tubers are lifted up as any left behind, however small, not only encourage wireworms but can carry over disease and provide food for keel slugs. They will also pop up and grow in all sorts of odd places the following season.
Normally first earlies are ready for use in June, second-earlies in August and the main crop during September to October. Lift when the weather is dry and leave the tubers on the surface for an hour or two before collection for storage. The object of this is to allow the tender skins to harden and so not scuff when handled. Never lift more potatoes than can be collected in any one day.
On average, potatoes will take about 70 – 100 days to mature. One clue that the potatoes are about ready to harvest, is that the leaves will turn yellow and the foliage starts to die back. It is best to leave them in the ground for 2 – 3 weeks after this time so that their skins can toughen up. Always use a pitch fork and your hands to carefully dig them out of the ground.
Methods of Storing Potatoes
Potatoes may be stored in boxes or sacks, in a dark well-ventilated shed which is free from frost. Do not use plastic sacks for storing potatoes, unless they are provided with holes to allow air movement otherwise the tubers will sweat.
Large quantities may be stored in a clamp. Site your clamp on an elevated sheltered spot which will not be flooded. Mark a circle on the soil and cover this with a 2 inch layer of clean straw and stack the tubers in a conical heap, keeping varieties separate. Cover this pile with a layer of straw 6 to 9 inches thick. Then, starting about l2 inches out from the base of the circle, dig a trench turning the top loose soil over the straw-covered potatoes. When the mound is covered, finish off by patting down the soil firmly with the back of the spade. At the top of the clamp leave a few wisps of straw poking out to form a sort of chimney so any gasses generated can escape.
Growing Potatoes under Black Polythene
Much has been made of this method of growing potatoes, particularly by the manufacturers of black polythene. It is feasible only if a comparatively small quantity is to be grown as it probably involves more work than the methods previously described.
In essence the soil is manured, cultivated and fertilised as for any other crop and the tubers are merely pressed into the prepared soil at intervals with the sprouts uppermost. The strip of polythene, usually about 2 feet wide, is then unrolled the whole length of the row and the edges pressed in to a depth of about 4 inches with a spade. Alternatively, a shallow drill with a straight side can be made, the edge of the polythene is then tucked into this and the drill filled in. This is to prevent the polythene blowing away. after the sheet is in position, make two slits over the planted tubers with a knife. This is to allow the stems and foliage to grow through into the light.
One advantage of this method for growing potatoes, is that all weeds which germinate under the polythene, die from lack of light. The big disadvantage is that the polythene affords absolutely no protection against frost. This can only be achieved by covering the young growths with straw or peat – a time-consuming job.
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