You can’t beat the flavour of really early new potatoes taken straight from the earth and into the pan!
Is it wrong to also feel smug about it when the prices of ‘new’ potatoes on the supermarket shelves are at the same time at eye watering levels? I think not and in any case, the best flavour is all about the freshness that you can only get by growing your own! So if you want to join in, now is the time to get growing!
Of course, there is no way that you can plant seed potato tubers into the soil outside right now. At least that is, unless you’re reading this in Poldark country! It’s far too cold and in any case there is a very strong chance that Jack Frost will ruin your chances if you jump the gun!
So to get those earliest and tastiest new potatoes you’ll need to start them off now. Go for the earliest and tastiest varieties that you can find. These will be labelled ‘first earlies’ and amongst them some will be quicker to mature than others. I’m growing a few ‘Lady Christl’ again this year and, although I find the more popular ‘Rocket’ yields better and earlier, it is lacking the strength of flavour I want.
So I’m planning on growing a few tubers in a very large pot of potting compost and growing them in my greenhouse until it’s warm enough to stand the pot outside. There’s a little bit of heat in there – enough to keep the temperature above freezing and that is where my seed potatoes are now. They are set up on end and there they will stay until the buds grow. I’m looking for fat, dark coloured, short shoots and they will come from the end of the tuber that has most tiny buds showing. Some people find this confusing and can’t be sure which end is which! For them, it might be easier to look for the end of the tuber that still bears the scar of where it was attached to the mother plant and that end should be at the bottom!
I’ll space three or four tubers evenly on top of a 30 cm diameter half filled with good potting compost. I’ll then cover the tubers with about 10 cm of compost and keep on covering the shoots as they grow until the pot is full.
I tried the Potatopot last year and had reasonable success. This pot-within-a-pot allows you to harvest the tubers from the inside pot without disturbing those still developing. However, I wasn’t expecting this to be so popular with slugs! They seemed to relish the moisture and darkness that there was between the outer and inner pot.
If you would prefer to grow new potatoes without digging and not in pots then you could try growing them under black polythene sheeting. Simply cover your vegetable patch with a generous layer of compost – spent mushroom compost works well. Don’t be mean about it as you will need a layer of at least 10 cm depth. Of course, this is not wasted and can be dug into your soil to improve the structure of it after the potatoes are harvested. If you prefer and are going down the ‘no-dig’ route then you simply plant your next crop into it the mulch!
But back to the potatoes as a key part is to exclude the light from your developing tubers! This is essential as tubers go green in daylight and develop harmful properties. So you will need to make the smallest hole necessary to plant each seed potato under the black polythene sheet. A big bonus with this method is that the yields can be very high and those tubers are very clean when lifted.
You might find my blog on which potato variety to grow useful here.
I’ve written general tips on potato growing here.