Shop Seed Potatoes
“It’s not a tuber!” shouted Arnold Schwarzenegger in the perennial classic Kindergarten Cop. At least that’s what we heard. Potatoes, on the other hand, are tubers. As are sweet potatoes - not related to the potato if you can believe it - as well as yams. But we digress. Potatoes are tubers, they are delicious and they provide consistently high yields for consistently neglectful gardeners.
Tubers are essentially a growth of reserve nutrients. Like an underground doomsday bunker, they store plant energy for an uncertain future. It is this stored energy that gives them the potential to grow a new plant at a moment’s notice or lay dormant until conditions improve. Anyone that has left a potato long enough in the bottom corner of the cupboard has seen it start to produce sprouts, ready to release its energy. Seed tubers from a nursery are often well sprouted and will not carry any soil borne disease, which is not the case for market bought varieties.
When buying seed potatoes there's two paths/families that your potato will belong to. This will determine how you grow your potatoes so pay attention...
Determinant or short-season potatoes can be covered only once, when planted. These tubers will be ready to harvest once the plants have grown and begun to yellow and die back; in about 70-100 days.
Indeterminant varieties will yield a bigger, albeit later harvest (between 110-140 days). The plants that grow from these varieties can be repeatedly 'earthed' or 'hilled' - the process of covering over with more compost/soil - to increase the yield (three cycles is maximum). Each time the shoots are covered, a new level of tubers will form, meaning that upon harvest each layer will produce potatoes of varying maturity.
Even though potatoes are a relatively easy crop to grow - which is why you find them EVERYWHERE and eat them ALL THE TIME - there are a few tips to maximise the yield;
1. Choose the right variety: different potato varieties will have slightly different growth requirements and are suited to different environments, but more than choosing the variety suited to your climate, you will need to choose the variety that is best suited to the way you like to eat them! Not all potatoes deep dry or roast well.....similarly not all potatoes hold well in a salad. Choose wisely.
2. Plant in the right season: which in Australia, in temperate climates, is really at most times of the year. While it's best to plant in the milder parts of the cool and warms seasons, we've also found success in the extremities. When you are living in colder zones, stick to mid autumn and early spring. If you find yourselves amongst the warmer climates, winter is always best.
3. Prepare the soil: potatoes grow best in loose, well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. Before planting, work in plenty of compost or well-rotted manure to improve soil quality. The ideal pH is somewhere around 5.5, but saying that, we've found them less fussy to pH than to soil that is either get too dry or too boggy.
4. Plant the seed potatoes correctly: cut your seed potatoes into chunks, each with at least one "eye" or bud. Plant them about 10cm deep, with the eyes facing up, spaced roughly 30cm apart.
5. Maintain proper soil moisture and nutrition: potatoes need consistent moisture, but they don't like to be waterlogged. Similarly they're not going to appreciate drying out on repeat. Another case of the Goldilocks principle....which is just right. Make sure the soil stays evenly moist throughout the growing season. If you prepare the soil well, fertilising won't be necessary, however we like to get into the routine of applying an all-purpose fertiliser during the growing season
6. For those with small spaces plant separately: we recommend planting in a felt pot or potato grow bag so that growth cannot invade the rest of your garden. Keeping potatoes in a separate container also guarantees that you won’t miss any produce when it comes to harvest time.
Potatoes grown in the garden bed are best harvested with a garden fork, which lifts away much of the plant while allowing excess soil to fall through its tines. When harvesting, sink the fork into the ground - giving a fairly wide berth from where you expect the first tuber (don’t want to spear it!) - to lift the earth and reveal the tubers growing beneath.
When planting in a felt pot or other container, it can simply be dumped upside down to reveal all of the contents inside. This allows growers to quickly sift through the soil with their hands and ensures that nothing will be missed.
Once harvested leave dirt on them and store in a cool, dark place. Decent ventilation is important because tubers will continue to breath and repair bruises/blemishes for a couple of months after harvesting. Keep away from sunlight.