Potatoes are without doubt everyone’s favourite veg. Each year the UK chomps through over 6 million tonnes of them and our nation’s farmers grow around 80 different varieties to keep us fed through the seasons. But with such a vast quantity already on the market, why should we grow our own at home?
Why Home Grown Potatoes?
We all know that fresh is best and you simply cannot beat the flavour of garden fresh potatoes! There’s also significant savings to be made by having your own supply, especially early in the season when shop prices are at a premium. If you do nothing else, grow a small crop of very early potatoes when you’ll gain the most in flavour and cost savings!
One Potato, Two Potato…
But perhaps the greatest reason of all for growing potatoes yourself is to ensure your own private supply of your favourite varieties. There’s actually 400 varieties of potatoes existing in the UK. A good slice of these will be heirloom and novelty varieties (many not particularly garden worthy) and the majority of supermarkets will only stock a tiny representation of the remainder. That leaves an abundance of potato varieties for the gardener to have fun exploring, each one with their very own set of characteristics, many of which won’t be evident until they reach the kitchen.
Your Own Perfect Potato Varieties
The beauty of supplying your kitchen yourself is that you can tailor your chosen potato varieties to your exact cooking requirements. If perfect potatoes is what you crave, you can grow the ideal variety. In fact you can grow your personal menu of potatoes according to all the dishes you’re likely to cook!
Firm v Floury
The texture (or water content) of potatoes varies greatly according to the variety and it’s this characteristic which greatly dictates its performance in the kitchen. Texture is described as floury (dry) or waxy (firm) with much variation between the two ends of the scale. You’ll particularly appreciate the importance of this if you’ve tried boiling a floury potato which will practically dissolve, whereas a waxy variety will happily hold its own. Equally you wouldn’t particularly appreciate a firm waxy potato for roasting when “fluffy” (courtesy of a floury spud) is the name of the game. Different dishes and cooking techniques require differing textured potatoes.
King Edward; King of the Roasts
If you’re looking for a reason to grow your own potatoes, look no further. The King Edward potato makes the ultimate “roasties” on account of its very floury texture, crispy on the outside and light and fluffy in the middle. Yet unfortunately as this old time classic is low yielding compared to more modern day varieties it’s largely ignored by most potato farmers so it’s a rare sight in the supermarkets. It really should be top of the gardener’s shopping list!
Grow for the Seasons
The seasonality of potatoes varies greatly through the year and this can really be embraced by the kitchen gardener. The Potato year starts in June with those beautiful baby new potatoes we all spend the preceding months lusting after, finishing with the versatile maincrop spuds that will see us through the long winter months. Here’s a few ideas on the opportunities for the amateur potato grower;
Early Season “New” Potatoes
It’s so easy to grow your own to provide a quick succession of much sought after “melt in your mouth” new potatoes. “Chitting” seed potatoes before planting and starting them off in containers in the greenhouse will give your crop a big time advantage and you can be harvesting your own potatoes when shop prices are at their premium.
Growing early season potatoes in the open ground is very easy indeed. We recommend growing a small number of a very quick maturing variety such as “Swift” along with at least another “early” variety to follow on immediately afterwards.
“Second Early” potatoes will be the next to mature and include a number of the tasty waxy varieties that make ideal salad potatoes for those hot summer days. These are again so easy to grow and highly suited to amateur growing.
New Potatoes for Christmas
Although the natural season for early potatoes finishes in the summer, it’s actually very easy to grow your own new potatoes for Christmas and the winter season. Before you plant all your early or second early tubers in the spring, put a few in a paper bag and store them in your fridge and plant them in a container 12 weeks before your desired harvest. Grow them the same as you would for summer potatoes but you must ensure the container is grown in a frost free environment. Charlotte, Maris Peer and Nicola are particularly recommended.
Buying Your Seed Potatoes
Potato tubers, or “seed potatoes” arrive for sale in early January. Its always best to buy your seed potatoes as soon as you can before your favourites sell out, keeping them in a frost free environment until you’re ready to get them started.
Looking for seed potatoes in Norfolk? Visit Green Pastures Plant Centre, Bergh Apton, Norwich, Norfolk NR15 1BQ
Recommended Potato Varieties
Potatoes for Roasting
Sharpe’s Express, Winston, Red Duke of York, Wilja, Maris Piper, Pink Fir Apple and the ruler of them all, King Edward!
Potatoes for Baking
Premier, Saxon, King Edward, Maris Piper, Marfona
Potatoes for Mashing
Rocket, Wilja, Nadine, Saxon, Desiree
Potatoes for Boiling
Arran Pilot, Duke of York, Maris Bard, Pentland Javelin, Sharpes Express, Premiere, Rocket, Swift, Winston, Wilja, Estima, Nadine, Marfona, Saxon, Charlotte, Kestral, Carlingfod, Desiree, Picasso, Pink Fir Apple, Romano
Best Salad Potatoes
Duke of York, Pentland Javelin, Rocket, Winston, Nicola, Charlotte, Kestral, Pink Fir Apple
Potatoes for Wedges
Wilja, Estima, Nadine, Marfona, Saxon, Charlotte, Desiree, Romano
Potatoes for Chips
Maris Bard, Sharpe’s Express & Maris Piper
Potatoes for Dauphinoise
Desiree, Marfona, Estima