Depending on your location early potatoes are planted in mid March once the days begin to warm. To be fair, the soil is probably warm enough to plant now in most gardens but what you need to be careful of is frost when the shoots appear above ground.
My recent method for planting potatoes is to plant them relatively shallow and to mulch with layers of compost. It was Charles Dowding who recommended this as it makes them much easier to harvest and reduces the number of rogue (volunteer) potatoes that come up the following year (because they are much easier to find).
I grew my spuds like this last year and while I thought the yield was a little lower I will be doing the same again. The potatoes look fabulous as they grow so easily in the soft compost, they are smooth skinned and uniform with very little scab. If you have a problem with eelworm in your garden mulch grown potatoes will also fare much better than those buried deeper in the ground.
I’ll talk more about compost in a minute but for the no dig method to work you need to add a generous layer of compost (approx 15cm) to your soil before you plant. The method works because the potatoes grow in the layer of compost rather than in the soil below; this is what makes them so easy to harvest, you can literally just rummage around with your hands. If you’re like me and manage to spear half the crop with the fork when digging this is a major advantage.
To plant, bury the tubers as deep as the blade of your trowel which is about 15cm. As normal place the end with the most ‘eyes’ facing up. The planting distance for early potatoes is 30cm between plants in rows 40cm apart, for maincrop it is 40cm between plants in rows 75cm apart.
Be careful of frost
As you have planted your potatoes relatively close to the surface they will come up quicker than normal. If you plant early you will need to keep an eye out for frost as the foliage is frost tender. Keep a length of fleece on hand and cover the new shoots if cold nights are forecast.
As your plants grow the potato tubers will break the surface of the compost in places, they will need to be covered up to prevent them turning green (and poisonous). You can use a variety of material like more compost, straw, grass clippings or, in my case, seaweed. For me this is the best part as you are covering and feeding the crop while doing wonders for your soil in the long run. Once your potatoes have been lifted you will have a beautifully conditioned soil for the following crop.
To harvest you can literally pull up the entire plant by hand and reveal a nest of smooth, clean potatoes underneath. Having tried it I would highly recommend growing potatoes in this way. It gives excellent results, is good for your garden and makes planting and harvesting much less work.
View our selection of seed potatoes here:
While we’re on the subject of mulching……
Mulching is the answer to nearly all your vegetable gardening issues. The day you embrace the idea and continually add organic material to the surface of your soil is the day you become an expert grower. You will create a high nutrient soil full of beneficial soil life which drains well and is very easy to work. Anything you sow or plant will establish quickly and will usually outgrow any pests and disease and will taste great.
Time spent making or sourcing mulching material far outweighs time spent fighting against poor soil; while it might seem a lot of effort in the beginning it is actually far less work in the long run. Remember a layer of mulch protects your soil but also prevents light from reaching weed seeds which will cut your weeding labour in half.
What is mulch?
Mulch is any plant based material which will rot down to feed your soil and your plants. You place a mulch on the surface rather than digging it in so it does not need to be broken down (i.e. composted) beforehand.
As you may know I use a lot of seaweed because I am near the coast but I also use a sawdust / manure mix from a local riding stables as well as my garden compost. You can also use straw, grass clippings or leaf mould, basically anything that will rot down and become part of your soil. If you have a hot compost bin like a Joraform or Hotbin that can handle meat or fish waste you can also use the finished compost.
When to mulch?
The beauty of mulch is that is a slow release feed that feeds your soil so does not provide a quick nutrient hit to plants, this means you can mulch all year round. I try to apply lighter mulches to any area of bare soil during the growing season and add heavier loads in the Autumn when I put my garden to bed for the Winter. As a rule of thumb you should never be looking at bare soil, if it isn’t covered by a plant, it should be covered by mulch.
Where do I get enough material?
You may be surprised what you can get locally. My local riding stables literally has a mountain of horse manure mixed with bedding (wood shavings) that they are dying to get rid of. I just turn up with a trailer and shovel away when I need it.
Local councils often have compost facilities where you can buy bulk compost which is an excellent mulch. Where people fall foul of municipal compost is that it tends to contain a high proportion of woody material which should not be dug into the soil.
The fact that you don’t dig in mulch is very important. Digging in high woody (carbon) content material like wood chip bedding will actually reduce soil fertility until it rots down whereas it is perfectly safe to add it to the surface.
We can help
You probably will not be shocked to learn that we supply mulching materials if you don’t have local options. We can supply bulk compost in cubic metre bags for medium to large gardens but can also supply smaller bags if you can only fit a couple of raised beds. We can also supply organic horse manure in 12 KG bags which is ideal for raised beds.
Just do it
If you don’t mulch already this is your year to get started. If I was to give one single piece of advice that will benefit your whole garden and make your life easier this is it.
You will have heard people say, in reference to our own health, that if you could design a drug that improves your mood, makes you stronger and lets you live longer you would be a billionaire many times over. The free solution is, of course, exercise.
Mulching is the equivalent for your garden. It really does everything. It feeds, protects, reduces weeding, increases earthworm populations and produces the most fabulous, sweet smelling soil. Once you get this right everything else just slots into place.