Growing Potatoes

Here is a few tips on how to grow potatoes at home

Garden Larder potato varieties may grow a little differently to potatoes you have grown in the past.  Mine tend to have low dormancy so you get two crops per season, and they may grow a little faster or differently than others.

Planting: In Victoria you are best planting your potato tubers in Early September, or August if you don’t get many frosts (such as by the coast). Don’t worry, they can handle a few frosts, and even if frost does damage the shoots they will come back.  Prepare your soil a couple of weeks or more before planting by digging a spade depth and incorporating some compost or a little manure into the soil. Potatoes do best when soil is fertile and it should be loose and easy to handle.  Plant your tubers around 10 – 15cm deep. Do not cover the soil with straw or other mulch as it harbours slugs which will eat the new shoots and stems of young plants, though I have had success with thick wood chip mulching. If you don’t have much trouble with slugs then straw mulch should be fine.

I plant mine 40-60cm apart for the biggest and most tubers but they can be grown 30cm apart just fine. it depends on how much space you have. If you are planting in pots, make them big pots and only one or two seed tubers in each. The more crowded the pots the smaller the end tubers will be.  Do not use garden soil in pots, use good potting mix mixed with some manure.

Care:  Fertilise the potatoes while they are growing but before they flower, and remember to water them regularly. If they dry out they will not produce well. There is no need to hill your plants unless told for that variety as my potatoes tend to tuberise well under the soil level. They should start flowering about 4-6 weeks after they start sprouting after planting.

If you are growing in pots, especially grow bags keep in mind that they will dry out quicker so keep the water up to them, and test the soil with your fingers to make sure that the water isn’t just running off down the sides of the pot and not soaking into the soil. The biggest problem with production in pots is they are too dry.

Harvest: This can be a little tricky. If you have bought any diploid varieties they will be harvested before the plant has died down. if you leave them too long they may start to sprout again before they are harvested. Have a dig around the roots about 6 weeks after flowering starts. If the tubers are a good size you can harvest them. Tetraploids should be harvested about 6-8 weeks after flowering starts. The plants should look like they are dying down. On the second crop leave the tetraploids until they are fully died down so the tubers are fully mature, even after a couple of frosts help them die down.

As an idea of time scale for most, but not all, of mine (Some take longer to grow and are late season). after planting chitted tubers they start to burst out of the soil in two weeks or so. A month after sprouting out of the soil they will flower. When you start to see flower buds that is when the plants are just starting to initialise tuberising, and when the flowers come out fully the tubers are starting to fill out. A month after full flowering starts many off the plants can be dug for baby potatoes, or leave for another two weeks or so for mature tubers. The bigger tubered tetraploids should be left for 8 weeks after full flowering before digging.

If you buy any of my varieties I will give the type and time scale of each so you can plan your harvesting.

Storage: After harvest of the first crop in Dec or Jan, you should set aside the tubers you want to replant and leave them in a bright spot for a few weeks, like in your kitchen. When they have little sprouts on them (check often) you can replant them for their second crop.  After the second crop is harvested in Autumn/early winter then put the replanting tubers away in a cardboard box or paper bags in a dark and dry spot until August, do not wash them. In late August plant any that have started sprouting and for those that are not sprouting yet leave in a sunny spot until they sprout and then plant.

Please note that some that have a long dormancy may not sprout for the second crop and may have to be held in storage or in the soil until the next spring. You can force them to chit by putting them in a warm, bright spot. Please check my advice on harvest and storage on individual varieties.  Only store the largest and mature tubers as younger tubers will start to sprout earlier.

Other tips:

  • Potato towers do not work. Potatoes just don’t grow that way so don’t bother. They can’t grow roots all up the stem like tomatoes can.
  • Be careful not to bring potato diseases into your garden by planting tubers from the supermarket or from other peoples gardens if you don’t know if they have diseases. Some potato diseases will stay in the soil for years and also affect tomatoes, as well as spreading to your neighbours.  
  • If your soil does not get waterlogged in late winter and early spring rains then you can replant your second crop tubers (if they are clean of disease) and just leave them till they start sprouting in spring. Give them a spreading of manure or compost and leave to grow. This makes storage a lot easier but make sure the beds are weeded before the spuds start to shoot in spring.
  • Buy new seed potatoes every year. If you keep replanting your potatoes you will eventually get a build up of diseases and many potato diseases tend to stay in the soil for years, and also affect tomatoes. The only reasons to keep regrowing your own spuds is 1, you may not be able to get your favourite variety again, or 2, you know you don’t have any diseases in your soil and you have never grown supermarket (or friends) potatoes in your garden. Remember that some diseases may be already in your soil in such low numbers that they don’t show, but if you keep growing the same tubers those diseases will accumulate. It is ok to grow two crops of the same, then buy new ones for the next sea