Go from chits to chips

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HALFWAY through January and my seed potatoes and onion sets have arrived.

This happens every year, I put my order in early and they arrive early.

It’s not rocket science but never fails to throw me into a panic.

Last year I gave up devoting any raised bed space to potatoes because I had so many other things.

If you look at it from a purely financial point of view, you get much better value for money from crops like beans, courgettes and kale, especially the fancier varieties.

I now grow a limited amount of potatoes in bags (Wilkinsons do two 42l sacks for £3.30 or one 169l giant for the same price).

They’re cheap and you can move them to make way for other plants as and when you need to.

This year, I’ve plumped for second-early Nadine again (Thompson and Morgan, 10 exhibit-grade tubers, £4.49).

It’s a lovely, smooth potato, hardly affected by the scab which seems endemic around here and tastes out of this world. These are expensive tubers but they’re worth it.

The bulk of the crop will come from Golden Wonder, a general-purpose maincrop with good slug resistance (T&M, 20 tubers, £4.99).

There’s confusion about potato jargon. What are first earlies, second earlies, early maincrop and maincrop?

Basically, it’s about when you plant, how long they take to mature and how much space they take up.

As I’ve listed the categories above in date order (and it’s obvious) first earlies are FIRST – new potatoes.

Maincrops take 18-20 weeks to mature, planted from March-May, so you can be picking them as late as October to store over the winter.

The other two fall somewhere in the middle.

First earlies are the ones to grow if you’re short on space and time.

You can harvest them from 10 weeks BUT bear in mind potatoes are not frost hardy.

You can plant them out as early as late February (so the catalogues say) but wait until 10 weeks before your usual last frost – approximately the end of May here.

That would mean the end of March – but have the fleece handy!

If they’re in bags, you can start them under glass in an unheated greenhouse. I felt awfully clever when I did this in February last year.

Unfortunately, they were in the conservatory (with 20-odd steps down to ground level) and by April had grown to 5ft high – too much greenery at the expense or tubers.

It was a hell of a job to get them outside and one I won’t be repeating this year.

* CHITTING simply means encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting.

Start chitting from late January or February, about six-eight weeks before you intend to plant out the potatoes.

Each seed potato has a more rounded, blunt end that has a number of “eyes”.

Stand the tubers with the blunt end uppermost in trays or old egg boxes, with plenty of natural light.

They are ready to be planted out when the shoots are 1.5-2.5cm (0.5-1”) long.