There is nothing much better from the veg garden, than the first new potatoes. Served with butter and fresh mint, to me that is heaven. I dont have an allotment and I have only a moderate sized garden, so I grow potatoes in containers. I concentrate on growing first and second earlies only, but you can grow maincrops too.
You can grow your potatoes in any container but the bigger the better. You can use pots, tubs, buckets, old compost sacks or specialist potato growing bags. You can even use old dustbins and stacked tyres. I have used the large sized reuseable bags bought from supermarkets for about 40p. They even have handles on for easy moving. Whatever container you use, you will need to make some drainage holes. I find drainage holes work best if made along the side of the container or bag, about 1 -2 inches from the base.
The compost you use in the containers can be either multi purpose or soil based. I like to make up my own mix of 50% multi purpose compost, 25% homemade garden compost and 25% sieved soil. I also add a good handful of chicken pellets into each container.
Planting and Growing.
There are two ways of planting and growing your seed potatoes in containers. Whichever method you choose, chit your seed tubers first. You can start your potatoes early when growing in containers. I like to stagger my plantings, with my first ones planted in late february in the greenhouse. I then make further planting every 2 weeks, till April.
Method No 1: This is the way I prefer to grow my container pots. First fill your container with your compost mix to a depth of about 6 inches, then place your chitted potatoes on top. The number of seed potatoes will depend on the size of the container. I would plant one tuber to a 12 inch pot, and 3 tuber to a large bag or large tub. Cover with another 6 inches of compost mix. Place your containers in a sheltered place where they can get plenty of sun. I place my earliest plantings in the cold greenhouse for protection. When the leaves start to show, cover with a few more inches of compost, keep repeating this till the pot or bag is nearly full. Fill the container to within 2 inches of the top, this allows for watering.
Method No 2: Fill the growing container fully, just leaving a couple of inches of space for watering. Then make planting holes with a trowel about 12 – 14 inches deep. Plant your tubers in the holes, covering with compost. Only add more compost if any new potatoes are showing through.I will use this method when planting one tuber into a 10 – 12 inch pot.
Keep you containers moist, watering well in dry or warm weather. Check the compost daily and water into the container rather than spraying overhead. Water spray and rain can be prevented from getting to the compost as the foliage acts like an umbrella. A poor crop in containers is mostly down to a lack of water. I like to give a further feed of chicken pellets when the foliage is growing strongly and a liquid feed of seaweed or comfrey when I see the first of the flower buds.
The beauty about growing in containers is that you can easily move the compost to check your crop or to remove a few potatoes to eat. Just like conventional potato growing, wait till the flowers are fully out or finished, before having a look for a meal off your earlies. If growing maincrops, wait till the foliage start to yellow and die down before tipping your container out. Again you can check the crop by scraping away some compost. If I have containers of potatoes I havnt harvested, I cut off the tops and leave in the container till needed.
This is a matter of taste and I like the salad types of potatoes. I like first earlies: Swift and Rocket, and second early Charlotte. There are a great many varieties, in lots of shapes, colours, flavour and textures to choose from. Most nurseries, garden centres and suppliers have discriptions on each variety.