How to grow potatoes

Backyard farmer potatoes
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How we plant potatoes at The Backyard Farm

Here at the Backyard Farm we have a preferred method which I find the most hassle free to plant, grow and harvest. It is a ‘no dig’ method that grows the potatoes in a mulch like old straw, hay or leaves! We use old, thin bamboo canes, leaves & hay or straw from the chicken coop.

Using hay from the chicken coop has the added benefit of small amounts of chicken manure which is a great fertilizer. You do have to be vigilant though as it can be quite strong in large amounts, negatively effecting your crops.

Backyard Farmer Potato setup
Backyard Farmer Potato setup

The bamboo comes from the garden, there is a section of fast growing bamboo that needs trimming often. I keep the trimmings and use them for mulch in the container boxes.

bamboo from the garden
bamboo from the garden

The potatoes are grown inside wooden boxes, you can use any similar container and pretty much any size. So long as there’s room for the potatoes to stretch it’s roots!

Fill the chosen container around ¼ full of soil & compost.

Dig a small hole and plant your chitted potatoes with the sprouting end facing up. Just plonk them in the shallow hole with around half of the potato sticking out.

Cover them with your chosen mulch, suggested forms of mulch are:

  • Hay
  • Straw
  • Dry leaves
  • Grasses

Water accordingly keeping the soil moist, usually around every 2-3 days in a temperate climate. Once the stems and leaves poke through about 2”- 4” and cover them again with a good layer of mulch, covering the stems by a good 12”.

Leave the potatoes to grow, the stems will poke through and grow. Leave them to do so until they are ready to harvest. You will find the amount of time to harvest on the packaging.

When ready to harvest simply pull your crop out from the mulch – No digging!

The draw backs to this method

This is a great way to grow spuds! However like anything, it is not perfect. In our experience this method has the following draw backs:

  • May not be suited to every growing set up
  • Potatoes are exposed to snails and slugs
  • Noticed a slightly decreased yield
  • Easily uprooted by wildlife

Apart from that, this method is full proof for any variation of potato you want to grow. Just keep an eye on those pesky slugs!

More about potatoes

  • Easy to grow
  • 3 categories
  • They don’t have seeds
  • You can grow more from any potato

Can I grow a potato from a potato?

Yes you can grow a potato from a potato & it’s easy. If you have ever left a potato in a drawer for too long or even forgotten about it then you have already witnessed a seeded potato!

It is however recommended that you purchase ‘seed’ potatoes that have been certified as disease free. This is encouraged to help prevent damage to the crop and soil.

How long does it take to grow potatoes?

Potatoes vary depending on what type they are. There are a few categories of potato based on when they should be planted. The main 3 categories for potatoes are:

  • ‘Earlies’ that take around 70 to 80 days until harvest
  • ‘Second earlies’ varieties that mature in around
  • ‘Main crop’ types will be ready to pick in around 120+ days

When you go to buy your seed potatoes you will generally see one of the above terms on the packet. You should choose what variety against what your needs are.

For example, to have a crop for the winter you will want to plant a ‘Late harvesting’ variety. Or for new potatoes in spring you would plant ‘earlies’ and harvest them early.

Why are my potatoes not growing?

There are other factors that can affect how well your crop grows. This in turn can affect how long the plant takes to get to harvest. Common problems that can delay your produce are:

  • Cold soil
  • Medium that is too wet or dry
  • Disease
  • Bad light conditions
  • Planting uncured & cut seed potatoes

To avoid as many problems as possible with your crop, try to stick to the guidelines

  • Choose the right category for the right time of year
  • Make sure the growing area has good lighting
  • Use good soil & nutrition

When should I plant potatoes?

Planting potatoes also depends on the category they are in.

  1. Earlies should be planted in Mid Mach
  2. Second earlies should be planted in End of March to early April
  3. Main crop should be planted in Plant in April

Potatoes can be ‘chitted’ before planting, this should be done 3-4 weeks prior to planting the seed potatoes. We will cover how to ‘Chit’ potatoes later in this guide.

Seeded potatoes

  • Are not actually seeds
  • All mature potatoes are ‘seed’ potatoes
  • To get a potato to sprout, leave it in the sunlight for a few weeks
  • Plant them sprouts up or the end with the most eyes
King Edwards and Maris Peers are this years choices

Chitted potatoes

  • A potatoe thats sprouted is ‘chitted’
  • Chitting a potato helps the plant take hold and develop

How to ‘Chit’ potatoes

To chit a potato simply leave it in a cool, light place for around 2-4 weeks. Place the potatoes with the ‘eyes’ facing up in an egg box.

Once the shoots have reached 4cm or so they are ready for planting, they should also be planted shoots up.

When to chit your potatoes

For perfect timing start the chitting process around 4 weeks before you want to plant them. Take into account the ‘category’ that your chosen seeded potatoes are in, such as ‘Earlies’ or ‘Second earlies’.

Timing this right can help improve your yield to give your plants a better chance of growing healthy and strong.

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