Potatoes have been eaten by humans for at least eight millennia, and in the 21st century, they’re considered to be such an important food that the United Nations declared 2008 The Year of the Potato. The potato is a healthy and rich food source that produces more nutrition in a wider range of conditions than any other major crop. And, unlike cereals and grains, potatoes can be grown in the tiniest of backyards.
How to Grow Healthy Potatoes
Here’s how you get started with potatoes:
- Find the best seed potatoes. Make sure they are virus-free. In cold climates, potatoes can be planted a few weeks before the last frost is expected. Another January planting is possible in most areas, but it can be harder to buy seed potatoes at that time.
- Put the seed potatoes into a well-lit (but out of sunlight) spot for a few weeks to shoot. Make sure they’re kept reasonably dry and away from frost.
- While you’re waiting for the sprouts (new shoots) to reach a few centimetres in length, spend time preparing the garden bed. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil (create a raised bed if the soil is heavy) and dig in compost or old manure. Don’t add lime – potatoes prefer acid soil.
- Add in some Yates Blood & Bone or Dynamic Lifter pellets.
- If you’re short of space you can grow potatoes in a large pot or even an old bucket. Punch a few holes in the bottom of the bucket and half fill with compost-enriched Yates premium potting mix. Put a seed potato (more than one if the bucket is big) on top, then gradually fill with more mix as the stems grow.
- Plant sprouted tubers with care so you don’t damage the young shoots.
- Mulch thickly around potato plants to retain moisture and protect the tubers from light. Potatoes exposed to light turn green and develop a toxic substance.
- Feed every two weeks with Thrive All Purpose and give the plants another dressing of Dynamic Lifter pellets in early summer.
- Potatoes usually take three to four months to mature but you can ‘bandicoot’ small chats before then by hand digging beneath the plant and carefully extracting any of usable size. If you want to store mature potatoes, it’s best to wait until the plants have flowered and died down before harvesting.
Problems to watch out for
- Snails and slugs can attack the young shoots. Use Blizem or Baysol pellets for protection.
- Aphids are worth controlling because they can spread disease. Apply Yates Nature’s Way Pyrethrum or Nature’s Way Insect & Mite Spray.
- Fungal diseases can affect potatoes. The worst is the blight that caused the total failure of the potato crop in 19th century Ireland and the subsequent starvation or exodus of more than a million people. It begins with leaf spots and spreads to the stems and tubers. The disease is favoured by humid weather with cool nights and warm days. Regular applications of Nature’s Way Fungus Spray will help protect from this and other diseases.