Plan ahead and plant some Christmas cropping potatoes now for your festive feast, says Jean Vernon
Growing your own food is a wonderful way to connect with nature, nutrition and your own well-being. There’s little more healthy than harvesting fresh, homegrown produce from your own garden, especially if it’s organic and free from toxic pesticides.
Many people have started on their own, new journey of grow-your-own this year and are already harvesting fresh salads, tomatoes, onions, courgettes and cucumbers from their plots alongside potatoes. Not only is this living larder a way to reduce reliance on the supermarkets, but the no-miles harvest is better for the environment too. With the price of fresh produce rising and a question mark over availability too, extending the growing season makes sense.
When the COVID pandemic hit the UK it was better timing. We were about to start spring and the growing season was well underway. What better time for new gardeners to start growing their own produce? Compost sold out. The garden centres were shut and the seed companies went into meltdown and could barely keep up with orders through the roof. The vegetable aisles in the supermarkets were bare. Experienced gardeners and newbies were planting for future harvests and are now just reaping what they sowed. Great. Fantastic. Lockdown is lifting and all is well? The news from overseas tells us otherwise. A second wave is building and we don’t know what is coming next. Or do we? Our COVID story has mirrored the rest of the world. It’s not rocket science to work out that it hasn’t gone away and that our second wave could well coincide with winter.
And I hate to be pessimistic, but winter isn’t that far off, so planning for later harvests is probably a good idea. And growing something that you can harvest for a winter supper, or even Christmas lunch has even more appeal. Imagine unveiling fresh new potatoes for your festive feast, or crisp roasties that you grew yourself? What a treat that would be, and actually it’s very achievable if you act now.
Traditionally seed potatoes are planted around Easter Sunday for cropping into summer. The race is always on for the earliest new potatoes while they are at a premium price in the shops. Turn it on its head and aim for midwinter potato harvests, when maybe they are in short supply and rarely local and organic.
You need special, cold treated seed potatoes to do this, but don’t worry these are available right now at the Potato House and most of them are organic too. Planted in July and August they will grow and mature to provide a small crop of fresh spuds in time for Christmas. I’ve planted ‘Colleen’, ‘Rocket’, ‘Maris Peer’ and ‘Sarpo Kifli’ one to a pot.
You can get them started in large pots of organic compost. I used Happy Vegetable Compost – it’s peat free, organic and made from recycled and/or green waste materials. One tuber per pot is a good place to start, but you can start them off in smaller pots and transplant them if you need to. Put each tuber on a bed of compost and cover with a layer of the same. They don’t need chitting like early seed potatoes. As the leaves start to form just keep covering with more compost, earthing them up as they grow.
The varieties at the Potato House have been chosen because they show some resistance to potato blight. This can have a decimating effect on potato crops especially later in the season. You can reduce the risk by moving your pots of spuds into a greenhouse to minimise the contact with the fungus spores. And of course as the months move towards winter, your developing potatoes will need frost protection too. So a winter glasshouse is the best place to complete the growing cycle as Christmas approaches.
If slugs are an issue then use an organic slug control sparingly to keep your new potatoes free clean and free from slug damage.
Food and water
Keep the plants fed with a quality organic seaweed fertiliser and well watered while they grow. Your plants will flower and the foliage will go yellow and die back. That’s a sign that the tubers under the compost are developing. Slow the watering now and keep the pots frost free. You can harvest one or two if you want to, or leave them in the pots until you want them for Christmas.
Or why not wrap a pot in festive wrap and deliver to your lunch destination a day or two before Christmas with a note. I can’t think of a more thoughtful festive gift; a pot of potatoes for lunch! What a talking point! Add a bottle of wine and you’ll have an invitation for life and you might even light a spark and create another keen gardener in the process. It might be a bit early but ….. Happy Christmas.