Is it too late to plant potatoes?
No one can be unsuccessful with growing potatoes – just put a potato in the ground and it will multiply within a few months. ( I once forgot to plant a bag of potato seed and they grew a few small potatoes at the end of their roots from just being in a moist environment without any soil!) Yes, more potatoes will be produced but their size and appearance will definitely be disappointment. To ensure a worthwhile crop, we must start with seed potatoes- these are grown at high altitudes and are certified virus free. I was surprised to see a text book advising you to leave a few of last years potatoes for next years planting , however good your potatoes look and taste, they might still have been infected and it is not a good practise to replant them.
There are two types of potatoes ‘new’ potatoes and main crop potatoes, the difference is simple, – new potatoes have only spent about 15 weeks in the soil, their skins have not yet hardened and they are often eaten’ in their jackets’. Main crop potatoes have spent up to 20 weeks in the ground, their skins have hardened and are not palatable. Although most potatoes will actually depend on the time left in the ground , different varieties have been specially bred to taste better either as new potatoes or as maincrop. The potato seed net will generally state if they are first earlies, (new potatoes) or maincrop, second earlies are usually a good all rounder .
There are two main problems that affect the potato plot – one is potato blight [a disease that kills off the top of the potato plant] ,and the other is slugs and eelworms [ that bore holes into the tube]. Blight does not usually affect the actual potato but it will not grow any larger and the earlier blight hits your plant the smaller your potato crop , slugs and eelworms can sometimes make such large holes that the potato is no longer worth eating and finding a slug inside your mash isn’t a very nice experience either. Few sprays are available for the non- commercial grower against blight, but nematodes or garlic powder mixed in the soil does help against the underground invaders.
I prefer to concentrate on growing earlies because they are harvested before blight can take hold, I also find ‘charlotte’ an excellent variety. I love the taste of the oval yellow tubers and the slugs don’t seem to share my taste buds as they usually leave them alone. If mash and chips are the spud –u – like, you will have to go for a maincrop variety and hope for a good crop. Thompson and Morgan have introduced the ‘Sarpo’ range from Hungary which is not meant to be affected by blight but the taste is slightly different to our British (or Irish) potato. The above company also issued a pamphlet ‘Guide to seed potato varieties’ by Alan Roman which lists over 150 varieties and details the yield, size, colour, slug and blight resistance of each one – it makes good reading, but many of these statistics can change annually.
Coming back to the question : Is it too late to plant potatoes – potatoes are half hardy and will grow till the first frosts, so we definitely have enough time to plant earlies in June but the season might be a bit short for main crop . So here is my tip to get round the problem.
Late Planting Tip: As night temperatures can plummet by around 10 degrees every night -this inhibits the growth of plants, if the temperature would not fluctuate the plant would continue to grow on through the night as well . Therefore, if you have not yet got round to planting your seed potatoes yet,( they are still available in the shops) – buy them now and instead of planting them in the ground, start them of in pots in a greenhouse or poly tunnel, either a few in one pot as in the picture, or even better if you can pot them up singly. Due to the extra night warmth after around 3 weeks plant them out in good soil, and they will have caught up with their brothers who have not been pampered at night to produce an equally good crop..
Buying Tip : Look at the photo – the ones on the top have ‘chitted’ well with stumpy shoots and are ready for planting – the ones on the bottom have spindly shoots which have grown without nutrients and will take a long time to recover – DONT BUY!
Money saving tip:
Garden Centres are desperate to empty their shelves of summer flowering bulbs, before they are past their sell by date, many are reduced by up to 70%, I picked a bag of dahlia tubers reduced from £5.99 to £1.79 and a net of gladioli reduced from £4.99 to £1.49 !
But beware: When buying lily bulbs ensure that the bulbs have not dried out and are not flaky and brittle, also when buying dahlia tubers ensure that a piece of last years stem is attached to the tuber otherwise they will not grow.
If you live near a Notcutts Garden Centre they have a half price sale on YEOMAN cutting tools, Yeoman tools are always a best buy and at half price you can’t go wrong!
Enjoy your gardening week!
Next week : Plant Out, Now or Never!