Dig the joy of growing potatoes

Gardening with QT columnist Chelsea Van Rijn.
Gardening with QT columnist Chelsea Van Rijn. Sarah Harvey
SO MANY CHOICES. Chelsea van Rijn displays an assortment of seed potatoes.
SO MANY CHOICES. Chelsea van Rijn displays an assortment of seed potatoes. Contributed

SEED potatoes have just arrived at Trevallan Lifestyle Centre. Seed potatoes are what you use to grow potatoes and look like baby potatoes, not like bean seeds as I once thought.

Supposedly about 1kg of certified seed should produce about 10kg of potato.

The varieties of certified seed potato seem endless - Dutch cream, sebago, pontiac and desiree are just a few. There are even blue ones.

Some are good for boiling or mashing. Some are better for baking and frying.

There are even some that are perfect for microwaving. Some are all-rounders. My pop swears by sebago as being the best all rounder and easiest to grow.

I often get asked "why can't I just plant the sprouts that grow from my potatoes from the grocery store? Why do I have to use certified seed?

If using non-certified seed potatoes, the chance of having a disease outbreak is increased. Potato plants can carry many potato diseases: bacterial, viral, and fungal. And some of these are passed on through potato tubers.

Plant viral infections are persistent and can not only affect your potato plants but your neighbourhood's plants as well. All plants in the potato family can be affected, such as tomatoes, eggplants and chillies.

These diseases can also contaminate soil and make an area implantable. The risk of making my vegetable patch unusable for a number of years is not worth me using non-certified seed.

Potatoes like a sunny well-drained position. It is best to plant them in fertile soil that has not had potatoes grown in it for at least three years.

The best time to plant potatoes is two to three weeks before the last frost. The seed should have shoots of about 1cm long; this usually takes about four weeks if seed was bought in June. Large seed can be cut into two, three or four. The cut surface should dry for a couple of days before planting. My pop recommends lightly rubbing the cut surface in some old wood fire ash and leaving to dry.

The principle for growing potatoes is the same, whether you grow them in the ground or in pots.

Plant the certified seed potato in soil and as they grow and the potatoes start to show through the soil, pile more soil up around them. Potatoes form on the surface. When you pile soil on top of them continually it helps stop the potatoes from being exposed to light and going green. (Green potatoes can upset the stomach.) This process also helps produce more potatoes.

Harvest your potatoes when the lower leaves on the plants start to turn yellow. You can dig only what you need and leave the other plants to grow on.

If you want to dig and store your potatoes, cut the tops off and allow tow to three weeks before digging. Dug potatoes should be kept in a cool dark spot.

This summer why not wow your friends with home-grown blue potato salad?

Topics:  chelsea van rijn, gardening, opinion



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