To answer the question “When to plant early potatoes?” this all depends on where you live and climate. Where I live in the UK the earliest we usually plant early potatoes is in the middle of February.
This is when the outside air temperature starts to heat up the ground to at least 10 degrees centrigrade. Is it a fruitless task planting potatoes if the ground is not warm enough to cause the seed to grow.
Depending on where you live it is also important that the soil texture is ready to plant into. Some areas have very wet sticky clay soil which is not a good idea to plant seed potatoes into, the seed will most likely rot in the drill.
Coastal areas are usually the warmest parts of a country as the sea is able to influence the ground temperature, and keep it that bit warmer- further inland areas may remain colder.
If you would like more information about growing your own potatoes, please read my article How to grow your own potatoes. This covers everything you need to know from planting, preparing seed, growing, harvesting and storage and more about this great vegetable.
Chitting seed potatoes
Before we go to the field with the early potatoes to plant them, it is usually best to chit the potatoes to get them off to a good start. This involves placing the seed potatoes into a wooden box or tray and leaving them somewhere warm (at least 14 degrees and upwards). This will encourage the potatoes to grow a sprout or a chit- which is just a little bud that grows out of the potato.
It is important not to let this shoot or bud grow too long, as it will be broken off very easily when you go out to plant the potato seed into the ground.
It is also good idea to toughen the soft white buds by exposing them to sunlight this will turn the buds green and make them much more flexible so that they do not break off when you plant them into the ground. You should aim to have your buds no more than half an inch long.
I have found placing the seed potatoes into a wooden box with slatted sides works best. This allows airflow and light around the seed potatoes. The airflow prevents mould forming and the light stops the buds turning white.
Preparing the soil before planting
Depending on what has been growing on the plot where you are about to plant the potatoes, you will need to prepare the ground in different ways before planting.
For example if there has been a crop growing in the plot previously it is unlikely that there will be much grass growing now. Whereas if the plot you’re about to plant into has been in grass previously then it will require much more labour.
Usually it is a good idea kill any weeds or grass before cultivating the soil. If it has been in grass you can almost guarantee that you will have to spray it off first as the grass sods will make cultivating the soil very difficult. If it has been in a crop you may get away without having to spray it before cultivating.
You should cultivate the soil to a depth of 8 inches, it should be well drained with a pH of around 5, and potatoes like a loamy soil with not too much clay content. When the soil is suitably cultivated I find using a power rototiller creates a good seedbed and saves a lot of manual labour.
Planting new potatoes
Potatoes grow best when they are planted into either drills or raised beds. These raised areas create natural drainage and stops the seed becoming waterlogged during levels of higher rainfall.
Place each seed around 12 inches apart and they should be at a depth of around 8 inches from the top of the drill or bed, ideally you should sprinkle some fertilizer into where the seed potato sits before covering with soil, this will give the seed the nutrition it needs to provide you with a good crop of potatoes.
If you do not like to use chemical fertilizer then add some farmyard manure or compost into the drill instead
Keeping weeds out of your potatoes
It is important to check the drills for weeds in the early stages of the potato plant growth until the canopy closes over and the potato plant leaves are touching. When the leaves are touching the weeds won’t get any light and will not be able to grow.
Can I plant potatoes in December?
If the area that you live in has a warm enough climate (more than 10 degrees centigrade) then yes you can plant potatoes in December
Do I have to water early potatoes?
Depending on where you live you may or may not have to water the potatoes – you will know if you regulary water other plants during this period – then it will be most likely that you will need to water potatoes too as they do require quite a bit of water to grow well.
How much fertilizer should I add?
This depends on what has been growing on the plot previously and you should carry out a soil analysis if you want to get the most out of your crop. The soil analysis will give you a guideline of what is currently in your soil and what you need to add to it to give you the best crop of potatoes.
How long does it take to grow early potatoes?
Usually takes 100 days to grow a crop of potatoes but because we are planting early in the year, the temperature is lower which results in the crop taking longer 2 mature. If we plant in mid February you should expect the potatoes to be ready by the end of June.
How will I know when early potatoes are ready to dig
The stages of potato growth are as follows
- Potatoes grow until they touch leaves
- Plants produce flowers
- Potato tubers form
- Potato leaves begin to die.
It is now when the potatoes are ready to be dug.. You can check by digging a top. The potatoes should be at least 3 to 4 inches in diameter or length.
Which varieties are early potatoes?
A few of the more popular early potato varieties are depending on where you live:
Accord, Charlotte, Maris Bard, Sharpes Express
Do I need to spray early potatoes for blight?
Usually early potatoes do not need to be sprayed for blight as they are being dug from the ground around the time when blight spores begin to become a problem (June – July)