Tuesday 25 June 2013

New Potatoes

I know that lots of my blogging friends grow potatoes in containers these days, so please forgive me if I'm "preaching to the converted" here. In my opinion growing potatoes in containers is an eminently worthwhile practice. OK, yes, it would be nice to have an allotment so that I could grow loads of potatoes - enough to store them and keep us supplied for months on end, but the fact is I don't have an allotment. However, I just love the taste and texture of new potatoes freshly dug. You know: into the saucepan within minutes of harvesting, cooked with a sprig of Mint in the water, and then served with a knob of butter and a generous twist of black pepper... You can achieve this with just "a few" pots.

Somehow or other, the number of potatoes I grow seems to creep up each year. I don't know how that happens, do you?  ;-)  This year I have 28 pots of them. Mostly they had one seed-tuber each, though the largest ones had two.

These late-planted Pink Fir Apple ones could really do with earthing-up again!

When I say "pots", I don't necessarily mean purpose-made flower-pots; almost any container will do, as long as it is over a certain minimum size (I suggest 10" - 12" diameter). For instance, I use a lot of the big plastic drums in which pelleted chicken manure is sold. Don't forget that it will need some drainage holes.

My recent pictures of potatoes don't show much of the pots, because they are now hidden below a huge mass of luxuriant foliage:

So, how do you know when your potatoes are ready for harvesting? Unlike most veg, with potatoes you really want that foliage to die down, so when it does, don't go thinking "Oh no, my plant has died!", but instead stand by to collect the harvest. Good strong foliage means that lots of solar energy is collected by the plant, and via the magic of photosynthesis much of it will go into producing those lovely tubers. It is generally reckoned that when the plant begins to flower there are tubers forming down below, but it is best to be patient and wait until the foliage (technically known as "haulm") dies down. It will wilt and turn yellow, and then eventually brown.

These are "Swift" planted 22 March, harvested 25 June.

The official harvesting guides given in the Thompson and Morgan catalogue are:-

First Earlies - 10 weeks from planting - i.e. usually from late May
Second Earlies - 13 weeks from planting - i.e. usually from July
Early Maincrop - 15 weeks from planting - i.e. usually from early August
Maincrop - 20 weeks from planting - i.e. usually from September

Of course there are very general guidelines, and harvesting times will differ according to plant variety. For instance not all Second Earlies will be ready at the same time. And people's views on the ideal size of a new potato vary too. When growing to produce new potatoes (i.e. the Early varieties, as opposed to Main Crop), I am looking for tubers about the size of a hen's egg. If you let them get much bigger than that they may be coarse and less delicious to eat.

If you are impatient you could always have a furtive "furtle around" in the pot with your hands, gently feeling for the presence of  tubers, and it is even sometimes possible to remove a few tubers without digging up the whole plant. When you judge the time to be right, (as I did today) the best method of harvesting is to spread out a tarpaulin or something similar and just up-end the pot over it, allowing you to extract the spuds.

 Well, this is what I got from those two plants, grown in their 10" Florists' tubs. The harvest weighed in at just over 500g.

Oddly, one of the plants only had three tubers - ths biggest ones in this batch - the remainder all came from the other plant. In my opinion the three big potatoes are a bit larger than desirable for "new potatoes", whereas many of the others are just about perfect. They are also completely smooth and blemish-free. No slug damage and no scab, so I am well pleased.

It's not a big harvest, but look at it this way: two seed-tubers produced 22 useable tubers for eating. And then of course you also have to consider quality as opposed to quantity!  We shall be judging that tomorrow night when we eat these potatoes as an accompaniment to some Duck breasts!


  1. They look beautiful. I've never grown potatoes in containers (now never will as I can't eat them), but I always thought it would make harvesting really easy. When you harvest from the ground you always lose some.

  2. Talking of quality both us and a friend found that the Jersey Royals we bought went sift really quickly - within a day of buying.

    Our first lot of potatoes are flowering now so we will soon be furtling!

  3. How exciting, I have had a furtle into some of my potato tubs, hopefully the weekend for us here.

  4. I would love to try potatoes in tubs one of these days. Yours look really great!

  5. thanks for the informative post i think i will try potatoes next year :-)

  6. Lovely potatoes. I can't wait for mine to be ready.

  7. Well done Mark, your crop of potatoes look great. We use many different containers to grow our potatoes in, the only thing we refuse to use is tyres! We also utilise the large 20kg bags from both our chicken and dog food, they are fantastic and can be slashed open when potatoes are ready to harvest. We start with them rolled right down when seed potatoes are first planted, then add more soil as potatoes sprout amd continue to roll sides up as more soil gets added. A very cheap, not to mention recyclable method of growing potatoes.

  8. I don't really think about the quantity, it's all about quality for me, and they always taste more delicious than those you buy so that's all that matters. Some of mine are flowering now so it won't be long until I'm collecting the harvest, I can't wait. Enjoy yours tonight.

  9. Its a great read and I didn't realise that potatoes could be grown in shallower pots. I presumed you needed really deep tubs and bags so thank you Mark

    1. Hi Fiona; How nice to see you visiting, and commenting! There is a lot written about the "best" way to grow veggies, but the best way is what works for YOU. I have had a lot of success with growing in containers.

  10. A wonderful potato harvest Mark.

  11. 28 pots of potatoes, that sounds quite substantial. Your harvested potatoes look really good, It will be awhile before I harvest as I planted late.

  12. Gorgeous potatoes! I love new potatoes.


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