It may still be summer but the delight of home grown, tender new potatoes on Christmas Day is possible with a little know how.
Before we look at what varieties to grow and how to grow them it’s useful to know what makes a winter seed potato. The simple answer is that they have been placed in cold storage to delay their growth and taken out from late June so that they are ready to start their 12 week plant-to-harvest cycle.
This means that a potato planted in August into a frost free greenhouse, cool conservatory or bright porch can produce your ‘roasties’ for Christmas Day!
It’s also useful to know that potatoes harvested in summer require a period of dormancy before they can be used as seed potatoes, so replanting these straight away with the expectation of a winter crop won’t work. The same generally applies to supermarket potatoes, although sometimes you can get lucky if you’ve managed to buy some that have already overcome their dormancy.
I’m taking a look at six of the best for you to grow this autumn:
• Duke of York – a superb all-rounder that has a rich flavour. I’ve grown them and I love them. Suitable for roasting, boiling and steaming.
• Maris Peer – ideal for container growing, these potatoes have a superb, light, fresh flavour. They are versatile too, as they don’t disintegrate whilst cooking. Suitable for boiling, roasting and steaming, they also make a great salad potato.
• Pentland Javelin – with good disease resistance, this white fleshed potato has a soft, waxy texture once cooked. Suitable for boiling and as a salad potato.
• Arran Pilot – a traditional favourite, Arran Pilot makes an ideal new or salad potato. It has a great flavour with a firm, waxy flesh. It also has good disease resistance and tastes best fresh from the earth.
• Charlotte – an ideal salad potato for the Boxing Day cold platter. Produces pear shaped tubers with a creamy, white flesh that has an outstanding flavour either hot or cold.
• Vanessa – With a beautiful red skin, Vanessa is suitable for boiling or baking. Its waxy flesh also lends itself to salads. It tastes similar to Desiree.
Growing for a Christmas harvest
To have potatoes for Christmas day, you’ll need to get them planted in August. The method of growing is exactly the same as for summer potatoes: place them in some soil at least 10cm (4inches) deep and add more soil on top of the plants, known as ‘earthing up’, as the top growth progresses. If you decide to grow in containers or bags then I recommend that you use a good compost formulated for vegetables.
Potatoes take 12 weeks until they are ready to be harvested. If growing in a frost free environment, they can be left in situ once the foliage has turned yellow, died back and removed. Make sure the soil is allowed to dry out completely whilst you wait to use them.
When growing outdoors, your soil type will determine the storage method to be used. Firstly, wait for the foliage to turn yellow and die back before removing it.
For light, free draining soils, piling on some more earth along the row, followed by a deep mulch of straw should be sufficient to keep the potatoes protected until they are ready to be lifted.
For cold, wet, heavy soils, it is better to lift the tubers by the end of October and rebury them in coarse sand or soil in a frost free place, such as a shed, until you need them.
Storing potatoes in sacks or in the fridge is possible but will cause the skins to harden with the subtle flavours of the ‘new’ potato being lost.
Hints and Tips
• Always use fresh compost if growing in containers or in bags.
• Look out for slugs and snails, they will be your enemy!
• Potatoes grown outside in autumn can be susceptible to potato blight so consider using a cloche or growing tunnel to protect them. Indoor plants are rarely affected.
• Feed with a general purpose fertiliser.
• Check weather forecasts for early frosts in your area and protect your plants with fleece, a cloche or a growing tunnel.
So there you have it – the secret to growing an essential element for your own Christmas table. Imagine sitting back on Christmas Day with a glass of your favourite drink and a belly full of home-grown roast potatoes, savouring the fruits of your labour. For me, that’s a present worth having.
Growing is also fun, so why not have a competition with your friends to see who can produce the best crop? You never know, it could be you winning the Christmas Cup this year!
I would love to hear about the things you do to make your garden work that little bit better or any questions you might have so drop me a line in the comments section below.