|Photograph by Helen A. Howell|
It's potato planting time during July - December in Melbourne and with so many varieties to choose from there is a potato to meet every one's taste. There are potatoes bred to meet specific needs such as ones for salads or mashing or baking and frying. Some of these breeds tick more than one of these boxes. For example you can get a potato that meets the needs of both chipping and roasting like Maris Piper or one that is ideal for mashing and boiling like Pink Eye. It all depends on how much ground you have to accommodate various varieties of potatoes.
I have limited space and therefore choose to grow an all rounder, that is one that will do all these jobs of chipping, roasting, boiling, mashing. I always go for King Edward. This is a 1902 Heirloom potato with a dappled pink skin. You can see them in the front of the basket of the photo that heads this article. Their flesh is a creamy yellow and they make the best roast potatoes and chips ever! This year along with this favoured variety, I have also decided to give Royal Blue a go. They are listed as good results for boil/salad but excellent for boil/mash, baked potato, roast and chipping. Sounds good to me. These potatoes have a deep bluey purple skin and I'm looking forward to seeing how they turn out.
Now on to how to grow these little babies. To chit or not to chit that is the question? I've heard comments from other gardening sources about the benefits of chitting potatoes versus not chitting. Having tried both methods I go with the chitting method which from my experience seems to give the tubers a better start in life. I look at it like seedlings versus seeds - you have a head start.
But what is chitting you may ask? It is a method whereby you place your potato tubers in a bright spot, like a window sill and allow them to make good strong purply green roots. This can take a while and my tubers have been in this process for around the last month. You can read more about chitting HERE and decide for yourself whether it's a practice you want to adopt or not.
King Edwards and Royal Blue chitting in the window:
This is a close up of what the roots should look like:
These are now ready to plant, but I will hold out until another week or so, when the soil is a bit dryer.
This is how I grow my potatoes in large tubs like these with the bottoms cut out so that the tubers are in direct contact with the soil.
First I dig in some rotted down chicken manure, a bag of which I bought from the garden centre, then on top of this I'll place a layer of mushroom compost. Don't have your tubers in direct contact with the manure. In each if these containers, depending on the tubers size, I'll place three to four on top of the compost. Then I cover with a layer of pea straw and another layer of compost or good garden soil and a sprinkling of blood and bone. As the green shoots appear I will let them get to around 12 inches high then repeat the process of straw, soil etc, leaving just the top of the leaves visible. I continue in this way until they reach the top of my container. When the tops die back I'll know my crop is ready to harvest and what tasty jewels they will be!
Don't worry if you cannot use a container that has the bottom removed, you can use a large pot on a balcony, a potato growing bag even a large rubbish bin. Just remember to make sure that there are some drainage holes so that your crop does not get water logged and rot. Put a good layer of compost in the bottom and some slow release fertiliser, or alternatively place a thick layer of straw and well rotted manure in the bottom and a layer of compost over this. Put your tubers on top of the compost and cover with another layer of compost. Continue to layer up with compost until your plants reach the top of your container. Remember to keep the soil moist but not over wet and place the container in a sunny spot.
So even if you don't have a big garden you can still grow potatoes in containers as I do - go on plant yourself some lovely tatters this season!