In spring, dig well-rotted manure into the top 30-cm (12-ins) of soil, if manure is unavailable use home made compost, bagged manure or leafmould with a general organic fertilizer. Never add lime before planting potatoes, as this can encourage scab.
Chitting encourages the tubers to produce strong, sturdy sprouts and gives an earlier maturing crop. To ‘Chit’ place tubers in a clean box or tray (old egg boxes are ideal) with the ‘rose’ end (the end where the tiny buds can be seen) upwards. Keep in a dark, dry place until you see tiny shoots appearing, then move to a cool (8-10C) light place. Planting early varieties is in March and April and main crop is April. The soil temperature should be at least 6C. A good indication of this is when the grass begins to grow.
Plant in holes or a trench 15-cm (6-in) deep. Early varieties should be in rows 75-cm (30-in) apart and 20-cm (8-in) between tubers. For main croppers these should be rows 75-cm (30-in) apart and 30-cm (12-in) between tubers. Potatoes should be ‘earthed up’ as they grow, bringing soil up around the shoots. this helps control weds, prevents the tubers turning green and gives some protection against tuber blight.
Potatoes use a lot of water, for the highest yield of good sized tubers, keep the soil most throughout the season. manure, compost and leafmould will all help your soil to hold more water. The most effective stage at which to water is when the tubers are the size of marbles. This usually coincides with flowering. Water the soil rather than the foliage. Harvesting early varieties is usually June and main crops in September.
A note about sprouting
On purchase you may see some early sprouting, weak white sprouts of varying length. The tubers themselves should still be quite firm. The potatoes are sound, healthy seed which will grow and produce good crops.
What has caused the earlier than normal sprouting?
Last summer (2013) was a good season for growing potatoes however temperatures remained warm throughout harvest and during storage. This has had the effect of breaking dormancy earlier than normal. Hence the shoots.
Sprouting is natural and there would be more concern if there was no growth at all. A number of steps can be taken to slow the process down
- Allow more light and air circulation, particularly with earlies
- Store in as cool a place as possible without risking exposure to overnight frost. Above 10°C potatoes will begin to grow quite rapidly
- A dry atmosphere is beneficial to avoid atmospheric bacterial and fungal growth
- If the weak white shoots are knocked off, it will slow growth down. The Potato will form new shoots more slowly
- Buy and chit potatoes earlier
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