Growing Potato in The ACT
These well-known tubers are easy to grow at home. They’re versatile and grow happily in containers or in the ground. Potatoes are prone to disease, so be sure to practice good crop rotation. There are so many varieties available to the Australian home gardener. Early varieties and salad potatoes are the easiest to grow in containers, while main crop varieties usually have the best yields and can be stored through winter.
Don’t plant your potatoes in the same soil each year. Soil where potatoes have grown should not have any other member of the nightshade family planted in it for at least 4 years.
Where possible, it’s best to plant seed potatoes. They are usually certified disease free and you can be sure that they haven’t been treated to stop them from sprouting.
Potatoes are heavy feeders. They like a soil that is rich in organic matter. Work some compost and well-rotted manure into your soil. Potatoes need a fair amount nitrogen as they start growing, so it’s good to work some well-rotted manure through your soil before planting. The manure will add nitrogen and plenty of organic matter to your soil. Once your potatoes are established, go easy on the nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will give you beautiful big leaves, but less tubers.
If you have a heavy clay soil, then it’s best to grow potatoes in raised beds or containers. Potatoes, like other root vegetables, struggle to grow vigorously and are often misshapen if they’re grown in a clay soil.
You can start planting potatoes two weeks before your last frost. They should sit happily in the ground and start to grow as soon as the weather is warm enough.
Chitting helps early varieties to get a head start on the growing season. Seed potatoes don’t need to be chitted to grow well, but they do grow quicker if they are chitted before planting. Simply leave the seed potatoes in a warm, light place until they start to sprout. Most people put them in an egg box on a window sill. If they sprout in the dark, the shoots will be long and green, but it you let them sprout in the light, the shoots are far shorter and darker in colour. When the shoots are about 1 cm long, they’re ready to plant.
Use seed potatoes. Seed potatoes are bred to be disease free. You can use store-bought potatoes, but they can carry diseases or be treated to stop them from sprouting. Plant your potatoes in trenches and then keep covering them as they grow until they grow out the top of the trench. This encourages better yields. You can wait until the plants are about 15cm tall and then cover them almost completely, be sure to leave some leaves sticking out the top, so that your plants can keep growing strongly and put lots of energy into making potatoes.
There are many methods of potato planting. People grow them in trenches, pots and even bags. The basic principle is that you want to be able to keep putting soil over them as they grow to improve the yield. If they are planted in trenches, soil can be added as they grow and eventually mounded above the ground. A similar method can be used for bags and pots, just keep topping up the soil as they grow through. Using bags or pots makes it far easier to harvest potatoes at the end of the season and the soil can be disposed of to avoid introducing diseases to your garden.
Always remember to plant your seed potatoes with the eyes facing up.
Weed well around your potato plants, they don’t like to be in competition for nutrients and water.
Keep mounding soil or mulch around your plants to encourage a plentiful harvest.
Potatoes don’t like their soil to dry out while they’re growing. Be careful not to over water though, if the tubers sit in wet soil, they’ll start to rot and be more prone to diseases. Waterlogging can be in problem in The ACT where heavy soils are common, so choose a spot with good drainage or plant in containers.
If you have prepared your soil well, then your potatoes should need minimal feeding. They need a fair amount of nitrogen early on. The manure in the soil should provide enough. Too much nitrogen will give you beautiful leaves and underdeveloped roots. When the plants flower, it means that tubers have started forming and you can feed your potatoes with some extra potassium.
Give your potatoes a good, thick layer of organic mulch. Lucerne, straw, coconut husk or even compost are all good options. If your tubers are exposed to the light, they will turn green and poisonous. A good, thick mulch early in the season also helps to protect your plants from any late frosts.
Once the leaves start to turn yellow, your potatoes are ready to start harvesting. Harvest as needed. Carefully dig your potatoes out of the soil taking care not to damage the tubers as you work. You may also choose to harvest potatoes through the growing season. Tubers harvested earlier in the season will be smaller and won’t keep as well, but they’re delicious and have a sweeter flavour than store-bought potatoes. The sugars in these early tubers start to break down almost immediately, so they are at their tastiest eaten on the day they’re harvested.