This POTATO business
Throughout the war the Ministry has been consistent in its advice that the household grower should not overdo potatoes (as many are apt to do), that he should not aim at self-sufficiency in this crop unless he has enough ground to allow him first to grow green crops – salads summer vegetables and, above all, enough winter greens and root crops for his family. “Follow the official cropping plan” has all along been the advice given.
And that plan provides for three 30 ft. rows of “earlies” and six 30 ft. rows of main crops for a 300 square yard plot. On plots half that size or less the Ministry considers it would be unwise to use any of the space for main crop potatoes, though two rows of “earlies” might be grown. The limited room in small gardens would be better used for growing green winter vegetables.
Prior to the war, green vegetables were imported in winter but this had ceased. Hence the importance given to providing green vegetables for winter.
Current best spacing advice for potatoes in the ground is:
- Earlies at 12” (30 cm) apart in rows spaced at 24” (60 cm)
- Maincrop at 15” (40 cm) apart in rows spaced at 30” (75 cm)
Growing maincrop potatoes has become increasingly difficult for home growers. During the war years potato blight was a problem but the strains of the disease were less aggressive than modern potato blight. They also had the benefit of an effective chemical control with Bordeaux and Burgundy Spray Mixes.
In recent years the view that sprouting or chitting as it is called, potatoes is of no benefit with maincrop potatoes. Regardless, it does no harm at worst.
PLANTING EARLY POTATOES
If possible, all potato planters – great and small – should “sprout” their seed potatoes before planting, as advised in the previous issues of this “Guide”. In any year it is a useful thing to do before planting, because it makes for a larger yield and brings the crop to maturity some weeks earlier.
If you have sprouted your seed potatoes, there is no need to be in a hurry about planting them out. Wait for favourable conditions. With unsprouted seed, however, it is important that the first sprouts, which are the most vigorous, should be formed in the soil rather than in the bag, for this will reduce the risk of damage in handling.
This means early planting. A simple way of planting is to take out shallow trenches 2 ft. apart and 4-5 in. deep on heavy soil, and about 6 in. on light land. The distance between the tubers in the row ought to be not less than 12 in. (15 in. for maincrops).
Heavier crops will be secured by using fertilisers. For gardens and allotments “National Growmore” fertiliser is most convenient. It contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potash––the three important plant foods. The method is to give a dressing of 1 lb. per 10 sq. yards, forked in before planting. Also sow in the drills before planting a light dressing at the rate of 1 lb. per 60 ft. Tubers should not be dusted with artificials, as the eye or sprout may be damaged.
Don’t apply lime to cultivated soil in the same season in which it is proposed to crop it with potatoes.
Potatoes are an unusual vegetable in that they prefer a lower pH (around 5.5) which helps prevent scab.