A head start

Without a doubt, home-grown potatoes taste better than shop-bought ones. Their flavour is much more concentrated, and with the vast number of varieties to choose from, it can be an exciting process of trying to find the best-tasting spud!

Potatoes are divided into first early, second early, and maincrop cultivar groups with different cropping periods. Early varieties are what we call ‘new potatoes’ and are ready to harvest much sooner than the maincrop ones. They need around 90 frost-free growing days before they are ready, whereas maincrop ones will need as much as 140 days to reach maturity. They tend to be much bigger and are the types we store over winter.

It is vital to use young tubers called seed potatoes, bought from a reputable supplier and certified disease-free. Otherwise, we may end up with a spoiled crop, but, more importantly, we run a risk of contaminating our soil with viruses and diseases, which can then take years to eradicate.

To give our early potatoes a head start, we can place them inside egg boxes, seed trays or any flat container in a light, frost-free environment like a windowsill or a greenhouse (a process called ‘chitting’). It encourages seed potatoes to sprout before planting, which allows them to grow shoots and roots and mature faster. They will be ready for planting once the shots are about 2-3cm long, in 4-6 weeks, at which point the soil should be just warm enough. Fingers crossed!