You might not always wish to grow your own potatoes, although none you buy will taste like the freshly dug tubers of your own, but I would advise you to grow a crop to clean your land if you are making a new vegetable garden.
All of the many potato varieties fall into three different groups – First Early, Second Early and Maincrop. The tubers of First Early varieties bulk up quickly and are dug during June, July and August when the haulm is still green. Second Earlies are lifted in August and September. Maincrop varieties are harvested in the autumn when the foliage is quite dead and brittle. Although all potatoes keep reason-ably well in store, the gardener relies on the long-keeping maincrop varieties for winter supplies.
The principal requirements of the potato plant are adequate available food, sufficient water, good drainage and the type of soil in which tubers may swell easily. An open, unshaded site is very necessary. Light soils are considered very suitable, provided they have been dressed with large quantities of moisture-retaining or-ganic matter. A heavy soil may also be improved structurally by the addition of organic material. A reasonably light, easily worked loam is probably the ideal. Where farmyard manure is available, it may be dug in during winter digging at the rate of up to 1 cwt to 6 square yards. Garden compost may be applied even more generously during winter digging or as a mulch after planting. If a compound potato fertiliser is raked into the soil before planting, use it at the rates advised by the manufacturer.
Potato plants are raised from seed tubers taken from plants grown in parts of Britain which are free of virus-carrying aphids. The potato fields are visited by Ministry of Agriculture officials who issue certificates regarding the freedom from disease of the plants. Tubers from these plants are known as ‘Certified Seed’. It is unwise to plant any but certified seed tubers. They should be purchased in January or February and sprouted in trays housed in a light but frost-proof room (a process known as `chitting’). It is believed that sprouted potatoes result in earlier crops. The gardener may also see which tubers have not sprouted and these are not planted. At planting time—in late March or April – each potato has two or three short, sturdy sprouts. The actual planting date depends on the condition of the soil and on the weather.
There are many planting methods. Perhaps the simplest is to make 8-inch deep trenches with the draw hoe or with the spade. First Earlies are planted at 12 inches apart with 2 feet between rows. Other varieties need more space; 15 inches between the tubers and 30 inches between the rows are satisfactory distances.
The black plastic method of growing potatoes is favoured by many gardeners because it obviates almost all cultivation. The planting holes are made with the trowel. A tuber — with its sprouts upper-most — is set in each hole. The holes are then filled in and the black plastic sheeting is unrolled over the row. It is important to ensure that the sheeting is securely an-chored into the soil. One way of doing this is to make slits with the spade on either side of the row and also at each end of the row. The edges of the 3foot wide sheet are tucked into the slits when the material is unrolled. When growth starts in May, the shoots of’ the potato plants are drawn through small holes (made with scissors) in the polythene sheeting.
Rows not treated in this way need weeding now and then. Many gardeners earth up the plants, too. This process consists in drawing soil up and around the plants, using the draw hoe. Earthing up is done in two or three stages. Finally, the plants appear to be growing on low hills. Earthing up is no longer considered necessary but the practice is advantageous on heavy soils where the plants benefit from the improved drainage provided.
There is only one way of ascertaining when First Earlies are ready for use. This is by examining a root. Scraping away some earth may reveal reasonably large tubers. If this fails, dig up a root in late June. If some of the potatoes are as large as a hen’s egg. Continue digging as and when required. If the potatoes are far too small for use, wait a fortnight before starting to dig.
Plants of Second Earlies and Maincrop varieties are sprayed with Burgundy or Bordeaux mixture in early July. A further spraying may be necessary later that month. The fungicide prevents an attack of potato blight for which there is no cure. It is most important to cover all parts of the plants with the spray — including the underside of the leaves.
Choose a fine, dry day for harvesting maincrop potatoes and take great care not to spear the tubers with the fork. Leave the crop on the soil for an hour or two after lifting so that the potatoes are quite dry before being stored. Remove any damaged, diseased or very small potatoes and store the rest in boxes or trays in a dark, frost-proof place. Darkness is essential to pre-vent greening. Greened potatoes are not edible. Sort through your stored potatoes at least once each month during the winter and spring. Rub off all shoots which form on the tubers and remove any which show signs of rotting.
- Arran Pilot. A very popular potato and a good cropper. Very suited to light soils. Seldom badly affected by common scab. The flavour of the potatoes grown in fertile soil is excellent. Kidney shape, white flesh. Immune.
- Di Vernon. Not widely grown among gardeners but crops can be very heavy. Kidney shape, purple eyes, white flesh. Immune.
- Duke of York. Once also known as Mid-lothian Early. Does well in most soils. Kidney shape, yellow flesh.
- Epicure. An old favourite among gardeners who appreciate its good flavour when first lifted for ‘new’ potatoes. The flavour deteriorates as the potatoes increase in size during August. The rather deep eyes do not please the cook. This potato is much liked in colder parts of the country be-cause of its hardiness. The plants recover better from frost damage than those of most other varieties. Round shape, white flesh.
- Home Guard. Quite popular but does not appear to have the cropping potential now that it had when it was introduced around thirty years ago. Round, white flesh, shallow eyes. Immune.
- Sharpe’s Express. Very suited to medium and heavier soils of reasonably high fer-tility. Not the earliest of first earlies but cooks well and stores satisfactorily. Kid-ney shape, white flesh.
- Sutton’s foremost. Awarded Certificate of Commendation by Department of Agriculture for Scotland. Not as early as some and plants are best left to grow on until late July. Heavy cropper. Cooks well. Pale skin, oval, white flesh. Immune.
- Ulster Chieftan. Possibly the earliest of the First Earlies and an excellent cropper. At its best in July. Oval shape, white flesh. Immune.
Ben Lomond. Not well-known among gar-deners. Does best in medium and heavier soils. Kidney shape, white flesh. Immune.
Catriona. A heavy cropper and a potato which can crop quite well in less fertile soils. Does not store well. Liked by ex-hibitors. Long oval, white kidney with purple patches. Immune.
Craig’s Royal. Attractive tubers, long oval white kidney with shallow pink eyes. White flesh. Immune.
Dr McIntosh. Good cropper. Tubers of medium size. Kidney, white flesh, shallow eyes. Immune.
Great Scot. A well-known second early. Suits most types of soil, crops well and stores well. Excellent for baking. Round, white flesh. Immune.
Maris Peer. Needs a soil which does not dry out in hot weather. Shows some resistance to common scab and blight. Oval, white flesh.
Pentland Dell. From the Scottish Pentlandfield Station now releasing several new, good varieties among which Pentland Dell was one of the first. Good cropper, oval to kidney shape, pale skin, shows resistance to potato blight, white flesh. Immune.
Red Craig’s Royal. Does best on heavy soils. Very suitable for exhibition use. Long oval-shaped tubers light pink, smooth skin with eyes mostly shallow. Immune.
Arran Banner. May also be considered as a Second Early. Stores well until March. A very good cropper and particularly suited to light soils. Tubers are large but they are not considered highly flavour-some. They sometimes occur quite deep down in the soil. Popular among gardeners. Flattish round, white flesh. Immune.
Arran Consul. Not a well-known potato among gardeners but noted for its good storing quality. Oval, white flesh. Immune. Arran Peak Does best on heavier soils and stores well. Reputed to stand up well to diseases. Round to oval, white flesh. Immune.
Aura. Bred by Vilmorin-Andrieux of Paris and introduced to Britain via Ireland. The plants need a very fertile soil. Not a heavy cropper but the kidney, yellowfleshed tubers are by far the best for chip-ping. The flesh is pale gold. Until 1968 supplies came from Kent. Now certified seed tubers are grown in Scotland.
Dunbar Standard. Won much praise when introduced thirty years ago but better known among Scots gardeners than others in the United Kingdom. Long, oval-shaped tubers. The plants show little if any resistance to blight. White flesh. Immune. Golden Wonder Considered by many as the bestflavoured potato of all and at its best after Christmas. It requires a light, well-manured soil and enthusiasts say that only farmyard manure applied to the soil can lead to fine flavour. Not renowned for its crop but, although an old variety, much liked by present-day exhibitors. Kidney shape, yellow flesh. Immune.
Kerr’s Pink. Introduced over 80 years ago and still popular in Scotland but not in England. Not a handsome potato. Has a floury texture when cooked. Heavy crop-per and stores well. Fairly resistant to blight. Flattish round, pink tubers. White flesh. Immune.
King Edward. An old but still very popular potato once also known as Pink-Eyed Majestic and Scottish King. Not renowned for heavy cropping and its popularity is greater among farmers than among gardeners. Does not thrive on every kind of soil, doing best in a medium loam. Large, kidney-shaped tubers with shallow eyes and a few pink markings at the crown end. Stores well. Very susceptible to blight. Good flavour. Pale yellow flesh.
Majestic. Once also known as Tremendous and Allangrove. Introduced in 1911 and was once very popular among gardeners. Its cropping potential, once very high, appears to be decreasing. May be grown as a Second Early or Maincrop. Plants mature early. Large kidney, shallow eyes, good flavour, suitable for boiling or chip-ping. Shows resistance to blight. Immune.
Pentland Crown. A new potato bred by the Scottish Society for Research in Plant Breeding. It is claimed that the plants show immunity to some virus diseases and to blight. Vigorous grower and heavy cropper. Seldom affected by common scab. Stores well. Good flavour. Oval, white flesh. Immune.
Pink Fir Apple. Needs very good soil to produce a good crop of long tubers many of which are of very uneven shape. Tubers are formed just below the surface and often at some distance from the crown of the plant. The skin is pink; flesh pale yellow. Much liked as a salad potato.
Red King Edward. Once also known as Red King. Similar to King Edward but tubers are red-skinned. It is claimed that the red variety can crop better than King Edward.
Note, in listing the varieties the word `immune’ refers only to immunity to wart disease.