Tips from Olle Garden Bed: How to plant Potatoes
This month or the next, you might start sowing various leafy vegetables and even more to see you through the winter and into spring. Additionally, it's the perfect time to plant some potatoes in garden beds so that you can enjoy some new potatoes during the festive season.
Where to Plant New Potatoes for Christmas
To plant potatoes for Christmas, in most temperate climates, you may need a sheltered planting area. If you have a greenhouse or polytunnel, you should be able to grow new potatoes in containers as long as you ensure they stay frost-free until harvest in December.
What Are New Potatoes, Anyway?
New potatoes are freshly harvested small potatoes. They are not a specific variety, but rather young (smaller) versions of their fully-grown counterparts. They are harvested earlier in the season, which makes them sweeter, and their skin is thin and tender.
Container planting is usually the best option unless your area experiences no frost during winter. That way, when the first frost comes, you can easily place and move the containers to a sheltered spot.
I plant my Christmas potatoes in recycled large buckets, but you can use a variety of containers such as large pots, buckets, hessian sacks, or some kind of grow bag.
When deciding how big your container should be, a rough rule is that you need 10 liters (approximately 2.5 gallons) of space to grow each potato tuber. So, in a 50-liter (10-gallon) container, you can plant five tubers.
How to Make Free Potting Mix for Sowing and Container Gardening
To fill your container, any potting mix without peat should do.
I use a homemade mix:
1/3 homemade compost
1/3 leaf mold
Which Potatoes to Plant
You can choose any first early or second early potato variety to grow new potatoes. First early and second early refer to potatoes harvested early in the season. Some popular varieties include Maris Peer and Charlotte, but there are many others you can try.
When to Plant Potatoes for the Holidays
New potatoes are typically planted in spring and harvested in June or July. However, as long as you can keep the potatoes frost-free, you can also plant them in summer and harvest them during the Christmas season.
In Scotland, I've found late July to be the best time to plant Christmas potatoes. People living further south or in warmer areas might find August to be the best time.
The exact planting time depends on your location and the date of the first frost.
How to Plant Potato Tubers
When planting potatoes, first, pour about 15 centimeters (6 inches) deep of the growing medium into the container. I also like to put a layer of comfrey leaves over the tubers with their sprouts/eyes facing up. Then cover with around 15 centimeters of growing medium.
There should be enough space in the container so that you can "earth up" the potatoes as they grow.
How to Care for Christmas Potatoes
Potatoes are generally easy to grow, but you need to follow some guidelines to ensure success:
As the plants grow, earth up the soil around the stems several times, just like you would with potatoes grown in the ground. This helps increase yields.
Keep up with watering, especially during dry spells. Remember that potted plants need more frequent watering than plants grown in the ground.
To promote growth, you can also consider feeding with organic liquid plant feed in late summer and early autumn. Comfrey tea or seaweed liquid feed are good choices.
In late autumn, remove the dead foliage after the plants have withered. But leave the tubers in the container until you're ready to harvest them. Just be mindful of rodents, squirrels, or other pests that might try to get to your tubers before you do.
When you're ready to harvest, you can simply reach into the container and take out a few new potatoes at a time. Alternatively, you can tip the whole container upside down and retrieve all the tubers from within.
While you might have stored maincrop potatoes for your Christmas dinner, preparing fresh new potatoes for the festive occasion is a special treat. So, if you can keep the potato containers frost-free, why not try planting some potatoes this year for Christmas? It will be a unique and delicious indulgence.