Choosing the best place to plant your potatoes will be different for everyone, as each person will have different areas available to grow. For example some people may have a large vegetable garden, some may only have access to an area to grow potatoes in a large bag and some may choose to grow potatoes in a tyre, a raised bed or an allotment. While all these different physical locations will have their own seperate conditions to consider, there are a few ground rules which should apply irrespective of where you are growing your potatoes.
What type of soil conditions do potatoes like
The soil should have good drainage and not be prone to waterlogging, potatoes which sit in waterlogged soil will rot. There are many different soil types but generally a well drained loam works best and heavy clays should be avoided as they can retain too much moisture and then tend to dry out hard, which makes it difficult for the tubers to grow.
Sandy soil generally looses water too quickly and can cause the potatoes drought stress which can contribute to skin blemishes such as scab.
A soil pH of 5.0 to 5.5 is optimum for healthy tubers and will also minimise scab.
I found this kit very convenient for conducting my soil testing at home.
You can introduce farmyard manure to break up the soil and provide background nutrients and minerals for the potatoes to grow- I will cover this topic in another post on fertilizing potatoes.
There are many places you can grow potatoes – I will list a few below.
Growing potatoes in bags
If you are limited for space you can grow your own potatoes in planters or bags.
I found these planter bags very useful, they can be used year after year and you can grow all sorts of vegetable in them. The velcro side flap is really useful to check soil moisture levels as well as an aid for harvesting.
After making sure there and plenty of water drainage holes in your bag (7-8 finger sized holes per 450mm diameter bag if required). Fill your bag at least 6 inches 150mm from the bottom with a good organic compost then depending on the size of the bag, insert your seed potato into the compost with the bud pointing upwards and then fill to the top- at least 6” or 150mm above the seed potato. For larger bags you may be able to plant 2 seed potatoes but generally you want to leave at least 300mm diameter between each tuber, both up and down and left and right. Give the compost a light watering and place in an open area in good sunlight (for heat and light) and away from hedges and under trees. Growing potatoes in a very sheltered place will mean there will be no air to blow through the leaves of the plant which is beneficial to blow away blight spores and keep your crop healthy.
Growing potatoes in raised beds
Another great place to grow potatoes would be in a raised bed, the same rules apply here as above with the bag except you most likely will have soil instead of compost in your raised bed, and now you should place your seed in rows remembering to keep each tuber roughly 300mm along the row and 300mm between the rows. You can choose to keep soil in the raised bed flat on top or make drills- I would suggest to try in drills if you are not sure of your soil type as the flat top raised beds can hold quite a bit of water in wet seasons.
You don’t even have to own a vegetable garden nowadays to have a raised bed. This raised bed box would be great for growing potatoes, other vegetables and herbs also.
Growing potatoes in tyres
Growing potatoes in tyres is just another take on growing potatoes in bags as the tyres are simple a vessel to hold the earth in until the potatoes are fully grown. The advantage of growing potatoes in tyres over the bag is that the tyres (usually 2-3 tyres stacked on top of each other) are more stable and less likely to get knocked over or blown over as potatoes which are sitting in a plastic bag. When your potatoes are reaching full foiliage the leaves can be 2 to 3 feet above the top of the soil so they can be blown over in high winds if they are in an unstable bag.
The tyres have rigid sides and a flat base so are much less likely to get blown over. The downside of the tyres is that they can hold too much water if the tyres are sitting on a non porous flat surface. I would advise to set your tyres up off the ground using short wooden boards or bricks- anything to keep the bottom of the tyre up off the ground to allow excess water to drain out. I have been asked by some people if they stack their tyres up 5 high to get more soil inside will this increase their yield- while it is true the more soil you have around your potatoes the more nutrients are available and a better chance of a higher yield is possible- there is a limit to this and It would be actually be more beneficial to have a larger diameter tyre: ie more soil to the sides of the tubers than above and below, as would be the case if 5 small diameter tyres were used.
Growing potatoes in pots / buckets
The same rules apply to pots / buckets as are evident with growing potatoes in bags or tyres, make sure the compost or soil is at least 6 inches above below and to the sides of the seed potato, make sure the pot has drainage holes- if they are on the bottom keep it up off the ground to let the water out or better still if the holes are in the sides also. Keep it out in the open where the wind can blow through it and the sun can shine on it for most of the day and water it lightly on dry days.
This spud tub shown above is one of the more sturdy tubs i have seen around.
Growing potatoes in a vegetable garden
If you are growing your potatoes in a vegetable garden or an allotment (larger areas) then you should pay a bit more attention to soil conditions and drainage. It is always a good idea to check that there are no broken drains or wet patches in your plot, If there are you should fix those first. Next I would advise forking farm yard manure over the whole plot and digging or ploughing it good and deep – at least 10inches or 250mm and leave it over winter(the frost will help to break up the soil). When spring arrives and you have your seed chitted and ready to plant, I would rotovate the whole plot at least twice making sure it is a fine tilth and large stones are removed. Now you can mark out you drills and plant your seed into rows at least 300mm apart making sure to mark the ends with a stick and card when different varieties are used.
When should i plant potatoes?
You should plant early potatoes as soon as the ground heats up enough and preferrably have the latest planting date in June or July at the latest. We always aim to have our potatoes planted before our turnips.
See us harvesting our potatoes here:
If you have been able to keep blight away from your potatoes and they have started to die off on their own – this usually happens around September- October time, they will be ready for harvesting.
The tops will die back and then turn white (as can be seen in the above video). It is best to keep the potatoes in the ground until the weather gets a bit colder so that you wont be storing them in warm conditions.
After they are dug you are best to store them in hessian bags or wooden boxes. This is to allow plenty of air around them- you should be storing your potatoes in a dark cool dry room. If direct sunlight gets at the potatoes it will turn them green (sunburn) and they will be inedible. If you store them somewhere warm and damp they will rot.
These are the kind of hessian bags i would store my potatoes in:
These are useful storage boxes which will last for a long time and have a convenient board on the side to mark your different potato varieties on it. Or if you grow other vegetables, you can use these to store them in also. Great box.
Try not to get too excited and harvest your potatoes early let them grow and fill out. You should let them mature, and they will taste even better!