potatoes — from chit to digging out

19 Jun

Normally for Parents’ Days I’ll whip up a feast in celebration, but my dad is going to spend this Father’s Day (Fathering Sunday?) with his dad in Yorkshire. As I can’t be there, I’m spending him northwards with a bag of home-grown potatoes from my first crop of the season!

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I dug them up this morning — an earthy treasure hunt! I began these babies from seed back in March or April (unlike Lou, I’ve been kind of slack with noting such vital information), by chitting them.

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Chitting is when you allow the initial tender roots to begin to sprout from your seed potatoes. Each seed should be placed comfortably on a plate or tray, in a warm, dry spot. Which ever side shows the most eyes should be placed up. Once their sprouts are 1/2- to 1-inch high, they’re ready to go in soil. Potatoes grow beautifully in containers, but they do need quite a bit of room. I used 20-litre pots and placed between 3 and 5 in each one. Any more than that and they’d choke out.

Begin by layering about an inch or two of good compost over the bottom of each pot, then place the potatoes sprout-side up. Cover them up with soil, so that the tips of the highest sprout is just covered. They need to be earthed-up regularly to encourage growth.

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Earthing up is topping up the soil so that the new growth is covered over again by soil. It will seem like they’re languishing for weeks before you start to see proper leaves, and though it seem somewhat counterintuitive to cover them with soil, the plants actually really benefit from it. You want to keep earthing up, as much as necessary, until the surface of the soil is about two inches from the rim of the pot. The shoots will grow at different rates, so there’s always a point when one of them has tipped the rim but the rest are still somewhere in the middle of the tub.

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But once they’re all up, suddenly they look like real plants! Last year my potatoes flowered, with lovely delicate purple blossoms, but this year I some buds that threatened to flower but didn’t. I was a little disappointed until my granddad told me that you really should pinch off any flowers anyway. Which is precisely why he deserves part of my first crop!

I’m going to have to get myself down to the garden centre tomorrow to pick up from maincrop mid-seasons so I’ve got potatoes to harvest in September, and maybe some lates too, so we can have home-grown spuds in the winter. Yum!

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