Potatoes, a dietary staple in many parts of the world, have a rich history in European agriculture, with the continent serving as the primary site for the crop’s expansion following its introduction from the Americas. Cultivating potatoes in Europe is feasible, but farmers must take into account the specific climatic conditions of their regions, particularly the timing of frost.
This article looks at why potatoes need to be planted in time, which countries in Europe are affected by frost first and what damage frost does to potatoes.
When Is Considered The Latest Time To Plant Potatoes In Europe?
Potatoes can be planted after July in Europe, but the success of the crop depends on the specific location’s climate and conditions.
Usually, potatoes are planted in the spring for a summer harvest or in late spring for an autumn harvest. However, it’s crucial to remember that potatoes have a growing period of roughly 10-20 weeks or 100 days, depending on the variety, and need a frost-free growing season until the potatoes are large enough.
Potatoes and Frost
When considering planting in late July or the start of August, it’s vital to think about the first frost date in your area. If the growing season is long enough for the potatoes to mature before the first frost, it should be possible to grow them successfully.
Frost, especially hard frost, can be damaging to potato plants. The leaves and stems of the plant, which are above ground and exposed to the air, are particularly vulnerable.
When a hard frost hits, it can kill or severely damage these above-ground parts of the potato plant. The water inside the plant cells freezes, causing the cells to rupture, and this leads to the plant wilting and turning black or brown. This damage can hinder the plant’s ability to photosynthesize and grow, which can in turn affect tuber development.
Frost Under The Soil
However, the actual potato tubers, which grow underground, are more protected from frost due to the insulating effect of the soil. If the frost is not too severe and doesn’t penetrate too deeply into the soil, the tubers may survive even if the above-ground parts of the plant are damaged.
That said, if the frost is hard enough to freeze the ground to the depth where the tubers are, it can damage or even destroy them.
When potato tubers freeze, their water content turns to ice, disrupting the cell structure and resulting in a mushy, watery texture upon thawing. This not only ruins the texture and flavor but also makes the potatoes more susceptible to rot and disease.
This is why it’s important to harvest potatoes before a hard frost is expected. If a frost is imminent and there’s no time to harvest, piling additional soil or mulch over the plants can provide some protection. However, once frost has damaged the plants or tubers, there’s not much that can be done to save them.
Potatoes generally prefer cooler weather, so if your summer temperatures remain high in July, your potatoes may not fare as well. They may need assistance with irrigating extra water as the plants establish.
Where In Europe Does Frost Occur First?
The first frost in Europe is usually seen in Northern and Eastern Europe, specifically countries like Finland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, and Iceland. This occurrence is due to their high latitudes and cold climates.
- In Northern Scandinavia (Finland, Sweden, Norway), the first frost can occur as early as August or September in the far north. In the south, the first frost might not occur until October or November.
- In Russia, the first frost can be seen as early as August in the far north and Siberia, where frost can occur year-round. However, in the central regions, frosts often begin in September or October.
- In Iceland, frost can occur at any time of the year, even in the summer, especially at higher elevations and in the interior. Coastal areas see frost more commonly from October through April.
When Does The First Frost Occur In The UK
In the UK, the first frosts of the season typically begin in late autumn. The exact timing can vary considerably depending on the specific location within the UK and the weather patterns in a given year, but generally, you can expect the first frost to occur between October and November.
Northern and inland areas of the UK, as well as higher altitudes, tend to experience frost earlier than southern and coastal regions. For example, in Scotland and the higher elevations of Northern England and Wales, the first frosts may occur in early to mid-October. In contrast, in southern England and along the coasts, the first frost might not occur until late October or early November.
Implications for Potato Cultivation
The timing and location of the first frost in these regions have significant implications for potato cultivation. Farmers in these countries need to ensure that they plant their potato crops early enough in the year to allow them to fully mature before the first frost arrives.
Successful potato cultivation in Europe requires careful consideration of the planting time, especially regarding the first frost. If you live in countries above the latitude of the UK it is probably not a good idea to plant potatoes after July due to the high likelihood of frost stopping the plant growing any further.