Nothing beats a Christmas dinner. Hopelessly indulgent and completely enormous – it’s the one meal we look forward to all year.
Amidst all the hectic supermarket runs and last minute shopping, did you ever stop to think how wonderful it would be to serve your own home grown veggies on Christmas day? potatoes
Not only will they taste even better that shop bought, you’ll also be able to shorten your shopping list and save a little money along the way.
One thing that Christmas Dinner could never be without is the humble potato.
Whether you serve them roasted in duck fat or mashed with cream and butter, they’re the side that always demands a second helping.
They’re also so easy to grow here in Britain, and with a decent harvest you can be enjoying your home grown tatties all autumn as well as on your plate at Christmas time.
Here’s a full guide on how to plant, grow and harvest potatoes in time for next year’s Christmas dinner. Be sure to plant maincrop or second cropping varieties, as early varieties won’t last as long into the winter.
Before you can plant your potatoes, you need to ‘chit’ them. This simply means placing them in an egg box with the rose end (end with the most eyes) facing upwards, in a well-lit, frost free location. The eyes will sprout naturally, and the tubers are ready to plant when they are about 2.5cm long.
Step One Potatoes
Try to prepare the bed well in advance, by ensuring all weeds and large stones are removed from the area. You want a sunny location that isn’t prone to frost, and they prefer acidic soil but will tolerate other soil types.
Maincrop varieties need to be in the ground before May, but second cropping potatoes can be held off until July. Second cropping potatoes can be trickier to master, but it does mean you’re more likely to get fresh spuds on Christmas Day. Maincrops will need to be harvested earlier and stored until December.
Add sulphur to your
alkaline soil for a higher
Dig a narrow trench about 10cm deep and plant your seed tubers into it with the shoots facing upwards and about 30cm between each one. If you’re digging more than one trench, ensure there is at least 60cm between each row. Take care when handling your seed tubers as the shoots can be quite brittle.
Fill the trench with soil to cover the seed tubers completely. A scattering of potato (or another high potash) fertiliser over the trench is helpful although not essential
Once you see shoots begin to emerge from the earth, you need to start ‘earthing up’ your plants to protect them from colder weather. This means pulling the soil up and over the emerging shoots to cover them. It’s a really important process because it also prevents your potatoes from turning green, which means they are poisonous and should not be eaten.
Excluding light in this way also encourages root growth for a more plentiful harvest, so repeat the process a few times, until the new shoots and leaves are well away from the original tubers.
As soon as your potatoes have begun to grow underground, make sure you water them regularly, especially during dry spells.
Maincrop potatoes will be ready in September and October while Second cropping potatoes can generally be harvested all the way through to December, providing they are well sheltered from frost. Wait for the foliage to turn yellow and wither, and then remove it and wait a further 10 days before digging them up. It’s really easy to lift them out with a garden fork, but just take care not to spike the potatoes themselves as you do.
If your potatoes are ready a little earlier than expected, you can wash, dry and store them in paper bags in a cool dark place.
Make sure you store them well away from your onions as storing both together will cause them to go off quicker!
When Christmas rolls around again you’ll be smugly chopping up your tasty home-grown spuds ready to make the perfect fluffy roasties over the festive period!
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
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