Planting potatoes: Soil preparation is key to growing spuds

The humble potato can be grown by even the laziest gardener. Picture: Shutterstock
The humble potato can be grown by even the laziest gardener. Picture: Shutterstock

It's almost chitting time and that means preparing the plot for potatoes.

Potatoes are an easy crop to grow and love a deep, fertile soil with good moisture during their growing season.

Begin soil preparation now, a few weeks ahead of planting.

Spuds need deep, rich friable soils with a pH of about 5.5 - 6.

Soils with higher pH than this can lead to a disease called potato scab, so do not lime soils intend to grow spuds.

The humble spud has risen to gourmet status with many cultivars offering a range of textures and flavours that make it difficult to choose which variety to grow.

Undoubtedly there is a spud for every taste and occasion, all offering superb flavour.

Varieties such as Desiree, Kennebec, Dutch Cream and King Edward should be easy to source from your local nursery.

For something with more gourmet appeal look for Kipfler, Saphire, Royal Blue, Ruby Lou and White Star.

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Most gourmet varieties are available through mail order but try your local nursery first.

Be sure to only purchase certified seed potatoes to reduce the risk of disease in your crop.

The way to grow spuds is just as diverse as the varieties.

They can be grown in the ground, in bags, containers, wicking beds and no-dig gardens.

For the lazy gardener, special potato bags with an access flap on the side make it easy to 'Bandicoot' for spuds without having to harvest the entire crop.

Seed potatoes can be sown directly or before planting, put seed potatoes into a well-lit spot but not in direct sun for a few weeks so they develop small shoots.

This process is called 'chitting'.

Once the shoots begin to develop you can rub out all but the two strongest shoots and keep them growing until about 3cm long prior to planting.

Plant seed potatoes or chits at a depth of 10-15cm and space them 20-30cm apart and backfill the trench.

As stems appear above ground, mound soil or mulch such as straw around them as they continue to grow, continue this for up to 60cm, this will increase yields and prevent tubers being exposed to light which turns them green and toxic with solanine.

Harvesting spuds will take around 12 weeks or more depending on variety.

Early potatoes can be dug anytime but for storing potatoes, wait until the plants have flowered or begin to wither, potatoes at this stage are mature and will store for weeks once harvested.

Whether boiled, mashed, baked, or fried, spuds are one crop that everyone can grow successfully so get digging.

  • John Gabriele is a horticulture teacher with a love for green spaces.
This story Tips on preparing soil before planting potatoes first appeared on The Canberra Times.