Saturday, 14 April 2012

Protecting and earthing-up the potatoes

I planted my first batch of potatoes on 24th March. It took about three weeks for the shoots to appear above the compost, which is a bit longer than I had expected, but we have had some pretty cold weather since then so I can understand their reluctance to emerge.

Since I don't have a lot of space to play with, I always grow my potatoes in pots - usually one tuber per 10-inch pot. I grow mostly First Earlies, which mature quicker than the other types (about 10 -12 weeks from planting).

When planting potatoes into these pots I only quarter-fill them, using general-purpose compost with an added handful of pelleted chicken manure. I then water the pots, settle the seed potatoes firmly into the moist compost and cover them to a depth of about 3 or 4 inches. As I mentioned, after a couple of weeks (if the weather is decent - more if it isn't), tiny green shoots will appear above ground. When this happens I cover them again with a layer of compost. I do this 2 or 3 times over the next few weeks until the pots are nearly full.

Earthing-up the potatoes like this encourages the production of more tubers along the stem. The tubers form just below the surface - and of course "the surface" moves as the plants grow taller. If you are growing the potatoes in open soil the earthing-up process also gives the plants more stability, prevents light reaching the new tubers (which will make them green), and assists with weed-control.

Potatoes can be planted any time from the end of February onwards, but of course in the UK at that time of year there is still a strong risk of frost, which can be very damaging for tender potato shoots, so I protect mine under a plastic cloche thing (it's officially called a "Seedling Greenhouse" - it's like a Coldframe, taller at the back than at the front). It holds nine of the 10" pots.

Since I only have one of these cloches, subsequent batches of pots don't have the luxury of such upmarket accommodation! The wire grid seen in my photo below is a spare shelf from one of the upright mini-greenhouses. It serves to deter the foxes from nosing about in the pots.

Of course, if frost is expected you need to think about providing some protection from the weather as well as from the local fauna. Here's a couple of ideas. You could put some scrunched-up bubble-wrap or fleece in each pot like this:

Bubble-wrap (Left) and Fleece (Right)

Or you could protect a batch of pots collectively, like this:

I think it's worth going to a bit of trouble looking after your potatoes, because home-grown new potatoes are a real treat (especially eaten more-or-less immediately after harvesting) because they have flavour and texture far superior to anything you can buy in a shop.


  1. Mark thank you for these helpful tips.


  2. Thanks for this Mark. I wanted to try spuds but didn't know I could plant them in pots. Am going to wait until Spring here (Sept/Oct) but will let you know how things progress! lol x

  3. We still have to plant our potatoes - we planned on doing it last week but Iit was so cold - still is!

  4. You may need that fleece at the ready tonight, Mark, a frost is forecast. My first batch of potatoes have been earthed up a couple of times now, they're growing like weeds.

  5. You post is a great tutorial for a beginner gardener. Thanks, Mark!

  6. My potatoes sadly need more soil added but I have not been able to do it lately. Maybe tomorrow after we get the new duck house built I can sneak down to the garden with the shovel and carefully shovel in a little from the compost pile if my back is feeling up to it.

  7. I've tried this method but I've never been able to get the tubers to grow up the stem like that they always congregate around the original root level. I'm trialling a new method at the moment where I 3rd fill the pot with potting mix then fill the rest with straw and top the whole lot with a layer of manure. My theory is that they may send roots upwards into the straw more easily than compost. It seems to work like that in the ground but I'll be interested to see if it works in containers.

  8. I grow mine in containers and potato grow bags and they seem to like it too.

    I’m only doing one variety of potato this year-Salad Blue as I’m trying Oca-a South American tuber-also in the bags and pots. Should be a fun experiment!

  9. I am glad you got yours protected. My tators got a little bit 3 nights ago! I think they are gonna be okay!

  10. The wadded up fleece and bubble wrap are grea ideas Mark!

  11. I agree with you that early potatoes grown at home are superior than bought ones and have been growing in bags and containers as well as the ground - I think I've got all my options covered. Those in the ground are ony just coming through but those in the greenhouse have at least a foot of top growth. Shouldn't be too long before we are eating a few.

  12. What great tips.. must be so much easier to harvest too. I've got one of those mini green houses now.. I might just start a couple of pots for the fun of it. A.


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