Wally Richards – July is potato planting month

Growing your own potatoes may take a bit of room in your garden, but the advantages of having your own freshly dug spuds far outweighs any loss of garden space.

It is traditional for gardeners to grow at least a few potato plants so they their own new potatoes feature on the Christmas dinner table.

Those who have larger gardens are likely to grow several rows of spuds so there is a good supply for most of the year.

If you have a new section, then remember that the old way of breaking in new land, before lawns and gardens were set out, was to plant all available land in potatoes. This would help break up the soil and make for better lawns and gardens later on.

There are several good reasons to grow as many potatoes as possible.

The foremost in my mind is flavour and texture found in home grown spuds when compared to purchased potatoes. I personally have stopped buying cheap potatoes that one finds at some shops. These potatoes more often than not don’t keep, have rot in them, lack flavour and break up easily when cooked. The more expensive ones can also lack in flavour and only be average cookers.

In fact the only spuds I prefer to buy are certified organically grown, as they are just about as good as the ones I grow. They have good flavour, excellent texture, hold well and are delicious when baked.

I can be paying twice as much for the organic potatoes but they are worth every penny. If you have a source of really good spuds from a grower or retailer then you will know what I am talking about. Potatoes are to our diet what rice is to some other countries, and seldom do you have a hot traditional meal that does not consist of potatoes, baked, boiled, mashed or chipped.

We are all aware that potatoes are a root crop and root crops will have more of whatever is in the soil than foliage crops grown in the same area. For example, if the soil has been slightly contaminated with lead from old paint, it may still be safe to grow lettuce and cabbages but not so carrots, radishes and potatoes.

Commercial growers of potatoes will be using herbicides, fungicides and pesticides along with chemical fertilisers to grow and care for their crops. These chemicals build up in the soil over years of cultivation and so it is a logical conclusion that potatoes you buy, that are not certified organic, will have some degree of several chemicals in their flesh.

As we eat potatoes most days then we could have the possibility of health problems in the future. If this is so, then babies and childrens developing bodies are likely to have more health problems than adults. It’s the gradual buildup in our tissues over an extended period of time before we succumb to a problem which could be a cancer or other serious illness. When we add up the better flavour and far less chemical content from growing our own spuds (or buying organic ones) it is well in our interest and our loved ones.

I have noticed that certified seed potatoes have been available in garden centres for a while now, but my feeling is there is no advantage to start off too early. Now we are almost into July, it is a good time to buy them and sprout them before planting.

There are basically two types of potatoes: early and late.

Early spuds will mature in about 90 days or less and be ready to harvest when they flower. Late ones will take about 120 days and be ready to harvest when the tops have flowered and started to die down. So we are looking at 3 to 4 months from planting to harvest.

If it takes the rest of July and a bit of August to have the seed potatoes shoot, and green up the shoots, we are looking for the potatoes to mature about November to December. Nice timing for Christmas.

Very early potatoes maturing in October will leave ground available for summer crops to plant about Labour Weekend. Perfect.

Now for my secret, which I have given to many gardeners, to grow the very best potatoes.

Select whatever variety you prefer and sprout them.  The hot water cupboard will speed up the starting of sprouts, then outside into a sheltered spot to green up the shoots in good light but out of direct sunlight.

Make your trench or holes for planting about 20cm deep. Place about a small handful of sheep manure pellets, a dessertspoon of Gypsum, a tablespoon of Neem Tree Granules and a half a  teaspoon of BioPhos under each sprouted spud and cover with soil. As the shoots appear through the soil, cover with more soil and keep doing this till you have a good sized mound. Once you reach the good sized mound size, most danger of frosts will be over. If not, spray the tops with Vaporgard. I have self sown spuds in the garden at this time and their tops have not been unduly affected by the frosts we have had, as they have been sprayed with Vaporgard.

The first time I used the sheep manure pellets and Gypsum trick, I ended up with Cliff Kidneys as big as Ruas with still the kidney shape.

If spring conditions favor blights, you can protect the potatoes externally with sprays of Liquid Copper and internally with monthly sprays of Perkfection. Mycorrcin Plus and Perkfection will reduce problems of rots also. When you have finished mounding up the potatoes sprinkle some more Neem Tree Granules on the soil to assist in preventing damage to the tubers from the pest called Potato Psyllid.

Crops that are planted later and are still in the ground from November onwards should be sprayed all over with Neem Tree Oil to give extra protection from these new pests. The frequency of these sprays would likely be about every couple of weeks. You can also spray the foliage with Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL) at the same time which will enhance the crop and put more goodness into the potatoes.  Neem oil and MBL can be mixed together.

Ideally don’t clear the area before planting with any herbicides and don’t use any chemical fertilisers and sprays. Either weed area by hand or even better, dig over first burying all the weeds underground. Do this now so the ground will be ready when your seed potatoes have sprouted. If you have no vegetable garden you may plant a few spuds in flower gardens or grow them in containers. In containers such as buckets, make up the growing medium from 90% compost and 10% clean top soil. One third fill the container with the mix, put in the sheep pellets, Gypsum, etc with the seed potato and cover.  As shoots come through keep covering as you would do in the garden until the level is just an inch away from the top rim. Potatoes need to be kept moist while growing but not to have wet feet.

If you don’t normally grow spuds try a few this season, you will be glad you did.

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