No matter what variety of potato you’re growing, the chances are, at some point, you’re going to need to mound up your potatoes. What that means is that you cover the shoots that are poking through the ground with soil. People call this process different things – so you may hear people refer to this as “earthing up”, “covering over” or simply “burying”, but they all mean exactly the same thing.
Mounding up the potato plant helps to encourage as much growth of potatoes along the stem of the plant while also protecting the potatoes from being exposed to light. Nobody wants green potatoes! If your potatoes are exposed to sunlight, the bulb will start to produce a chemical called solanine and become inedible. When potatoes are left out in the sun too long they also produce chlorophyll, as a way to turn the energy from the sun into food.
This year, I’ve started earthing up my potatoes a little bit earlier because of the unpredictable weather, one minute we’re getting frost, hail, sleet and in the next we’re basking in glorious sunshine. The tops of the plant are around 12″-15″ tall, and this is about the time that you want to start earthing potatoes. I try not to cover the entire plant, and leaving some of the foliage exposed to the sun so that they can photosynthesize. Depending on how productive they are, I’ll look to repeat this every couple of weeks. In the past, my potato mounds have crept up to about one and a half feet high.
As I’ve mentioned before, mounding up or covering the potatoes also helps to protect to the shoots from the harshness of the frost. You can tell if your potatoes have been the subject to the cold conditions because the tops of the plant will look brownish and crinkly – if you see that, earth them up fast! I’ve seen people at the allotment over the tops with grass cuttings, newspaper clippings and even plastic – whatever you decide to use, make sure that you don’t compromise the plants access to water.
I’m planting the second early potatoes. I’ve chitted these a couple of weeks beforehand and now is the time to stick them in the ground.
Whereas I’ve dug trenches for my first early potatoes and my main crop – I’m, saving time by burying these potatoes in the ground a trowel’s depth.
Potatoes the size of ping-pong balls should be ready for harvesting around 10 to 11 weeks after planting. Second early potatoes can be dug up as and when you require them, with the other potatoes being left in the ground.
However, they must be protected from frost so it is worth covering them with a thick layer of straw and/or sacking.
Knowing when to plant potatoes and when to harvest them can be quite confusing, but the idea behind planting and then harvesting potatoes at different times of the year is to ensure that you have a healthy supply of potatoes throughout the year – providing that you store them well in a cool, dry and dark area (under the stairs or in the back of the shed).
I’ve written the table below as a bit of a guide – although I’ve left out early main crop potatoes, which can be left in the ground for around 20 weeks after planting and second cropping potatoes, which are planted in late August and dug up just 11 weeks after planting. I’ve left them out because generally, I don’t have the time or the space to grow these potatoes.
||End of February
||10 weeks from planting
||13 weeks from planting
||15 weeks from planting
Last week I planted my first early tubers for May and now it’s time to chit the second early potatoes to harvest at the end of July. I’ve chosen to plant Maris Peer, salad potatoes that are said to have a light fresh flavour, as my second early potato.
Digging up salad potatoes to accompany that sizzling BBQ is something I look forward to every year – lightly boild and then garnished with button and fresh mint.
They’re quite a versatile variety and can be boiled, steamed or roasted.
Maris Peer has been around for years, but it’s being introduced into the market as a new variety because they’re best suited for the current UK climate. We have farmers in Suffolk, notably Matt Gregory for the Maris Peer potato hitting our shelves in the supermarkets.
Although, the term ‘Maris’ actually originates from Trumpington, Cambridgeshire which is a place steeped in agricultural history, even being recorded in the Doomsday book as being used for ‘ploughland’. Following its first mention in the Doomsday, various ancient barons, lords and landlords took over large portions of Trumpington and gradually forged it into the agricultural producer that we see today.
As before, chitting potatoes is easy – just leave them in a tray on a windowsill and let nature do it’s thing. I’ll look to plant these in a couple of weeks. I’ll give them a little less space than my main crop or my first early potatoes as I anticipate that I will be digging up these potatoes sooner than my main crop, meaning that I can make more use of the space to plant something else into the ground.