This is last year’s post at this time. It seems I am making a habit of it!
If I were at home today I would be planting potatoes. In my frost free garden, I would be planting them straight out – making a small burrow and covering the seed potatoes with 10 cm or so of composty soil, giving each plant about 50cm of elbow room in each direction so that I can “hill up” the plants as they grow with more compost.
“Hilling up” just means piling soil, compost, and/or mulch up around the stem, leaving 20 cm or so of leaves exposed. Potatoes are not really a root crop – the tubers grow off the stem, not the roots, so the more compost I am willing to devote to surrounding the stem, the more potatoes I will get. I would be picking a sunny, well drained spot in the garden that can do with a good top-dressing of compost after the spuds are finished so I am not tempted to stint the hilling up.
I would not be planting too many of them – we’re not active enough to eat high GI carbohydrates at every meal, and now that I have no huge boys at home to feed the demand for potatoes has gone way down. But home-grown new potatoes are such a gourmet delight I grow them, like the asparagus and strawberries, as a feature and delicacy rather than a staple.
If I were worried about frost, I would still be trying to get them started off now, even if it meant sprouting them in large pots of composty soil in a warm spot in the shadehouse. Frost will kill the young leaves, but the hot nights of October will make the plant just burn all its calories rather than storing them in new tubers.
I would be planting the certified seed potatoes I ordered by mail order so I know they are not affected by a virus that progressively lowers the yield in each generation. I have been “chitting” them by leaving them out in the light (but not direct sun) on the verandah table to develop eyes since they arrived. In my sub-tropical climate, they are bound to get aphids carrying the virus, but it won’t affect the yield in this generation. It just means that I can’t save my own seed potatoes year after year.
But I’m not at home. I’ve managed to organise a few days away at the beach. So potato planting will just have to wait till next week. Lucky I’m not a purist!