Is it worth growing your own potatoes?
Like onions, potatoes are readily available in the supermarkets. You can pick up a sack for a few pounds. Why bother growing your own?
Well, also like the cheap to buy onions, the variety available when you look away from the supermarket shelves is incredible. You can grow, relatively easily, the exact variety of potato you want for flavour, colour and purpose.
It’s true, potatoes can take up a lot of room, but you can grow a few plants in the smallest of places – the yield is still impressive even when grown in a sack or a bin.
If you want to see how impressive the yield of pot grown potatoes can be, just take a look at experienced veg grower Dan’s (Allotment Diary) video below:
Potatoes have been cultivated on our Isles since the 15 Century and we tend to regard the humble spud as one of our own. However, it’s South-American of origin.
In fact, genetic testing of the wide variety of cultivars and wild species proved a single origin for potatoes in the area of present-day Southern Peru and extreme Northwestern Bolivia.
Amazingly, of the 5,000 potato varieties worldwide, 3,000 of them can be found in the Andes alone.
Where then do you begin to choose the varieties of potatoes you would like to grow?
What potatoes do you enjoy?
Start with what you know. What potatoes do you enjoy eating?
Maris Piper – AKA the chippies choice – is one we are likely all used to eating. Usually deep-fried and covered in salt and vinegar. If you like your mash, then the red skinned Desiree is another relatively well-known potato with the perfect texture to make that creamy smooth mash. If it’s mouth-watering, ruffled up roasties piled up on the Sunday lunch plate, then it’s likely you’ve been using the fluffy King Edward.
These varieties of potatoes are commercially available in the supermarkets, but understanding the type of spud you enjoy eating is a great starting point when looking for other varieties with similar qualities to grow your own.
As well as growing what you already know, one of the great things about having an allotment or kitchen garden is the opportunity it provides to grow something different and expand that vegetable repertoire.
If you have an allotment, ask your neighbours. Not only will they be able to suggest some different varieties, they will also understand what performs well in your growing conditions.
If you’re active on social media, there’s an army of gardeners and veg growers on Twitter and Facebook who will be pleased to share their experience of the types of potatoes they’ve grown on their own plots. It’s a great way to get some recommended varieties and discover others experience of which taste good as well as pests and problems that potatoes suffer from.
Jack Wallington (RHS qualified garden designer, Community Director at The Student Room and amongst many other things, Allotmenteer!) recently used the power of the Twittersphere to ask for recommended potatoes to grow on his allotment this year. Inundated with suggestions from experienced growers, there were some clear winners. Take a look at the full list over on Jack’s blog.
The AHDB Potato Variety Database
The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. It helps to make the Country’s livestock, dairy and agriculture sectors more successful.
The AHDB potato database provides independent data on GB-certified potato varieties that have undergone independent resistance testing for key pests, diseases and pathogens.
Clearly, it’s designed for industry, but I still found it a helpful tool to discover varieties of potatoes I’d like to grow on the allotment and some useful information on their characteristics. Here’s how to use it:
The homepage offers a quick search function. If you know the name of a particular variety, type it in and click search and it will bring up the information about the potato. However, for me, the power of the database is within the advanced search facility.
Click on the search button at the top of the page. This opens up access to the database advanced search facility and the ability to start narrowing down the huge variety of potatoes available.
The advanced search allows for you to search the database on particular potato characteristics. Use the pull-down menu on the left-hand side to choose a character.
I began my search by adding the filter for maturity. Potatoes are generally classified as either earlies or maincrops (the database breaks them down even further) with early potatoes being ready to harvest much sooner than maincrops. They are what we call new potatoes.
Maincrop potatoes stay in the ground much longer and tend to have a better yield and produce larger tubers. There can be drawbacks with maincrop potatoes – they require more space, can be susceptible to late season blight and their long period in the ground means they are more prone to pests and so this is a useful characteristic to use when choosing the potatoes you’d like to grow.
Even when filtered by maturity, there are still a significant number of potato varieties so it’s useful to break the results down further. Click on the blue/white cross on the right-hand side to add more characteristics to your search.
The database provides an extensive selection of characteristics to choose from, some are not as relevant for the home grower, but values such as cooking type, skin and flesh colour are considerations we might want to make. Each of the characteristics you choose will provide options within the particular characteristic on the right-hand side for you to pick and filter the results further. When you’ve made all the choices you want, click on the search button.
The database will bring up the varieties of potato that meet your search requirements.
When you click on a particular variety in the results box, you will be taken to a page that provides a useful description of the potato including yield and texture. There are images of the tuber, sprout and the potato’s flower.
Further down the page are more characters of the potato to help you decide if it’s a variety you might like to grow.
This database is designed for use by the industry and some of the potatoes may not be available to home growers. However, I searched the availability for a number of varieties from the database that I had not heard of and many of them are available from seed suppliers.
Choosing the perfect potato to grow is ultimately a personal choice and based on many factors. The variety of potatoes available is incredible and there is a huge benefit to growing your own.
I hope the resources above can help you find the right varieties for you to grow at home – whether in pots or in plots.
I’ve not finalised my growing plans for the season ahead, but I have decided on a few varieties I’m likely to grow.
Charlotte is hugely popular and highly recommended early potato – so I think I’m giving it a go. In keeping with the theme for the allotment this year, I’ve been attracted to some unusual and colourful varieties too. Purple Majesty is a bit of a show stopper with vivid purple flesh which retains its colour during cooking. Shetland Black is a second early potato has a purple skin with a distinctive purple ring in the white flesh.
Where are you growing some potatoes this year? Are there any varieties you want to recommend? I’d love to hear them. Leave them in the comments below.