The potato may be the humblest crop to grow in many a garden or allotment, and though it might not seem like the most glamorous of garden jewels, there is something delectable about unearthing a pile of perfect spuds from the soil, and I’ve been growing potatoes in bags since I started gardening.
A couple of days ago we passed the two year anniversary of moving into our own house. As I started work on the garden shortly after moving in, this will be my third year growing vegetables in our back garden, and from the very start I have grown potatoes. My vegetable bed space is precious and limited, so I decided to focus on growing potatoes in bags. This has many advantages beyond being a space-saving way to grow spuds, as there is very little chance of me missing potatoes when I am harvesting, so I don’t lose any of my crop and also don’t find ‘volunteer’ potatoes sprouting up in unwanted locations the following year.
In 2021 I had to rush to source and plant potatoes, as by the time we’d moved in in February, taken stock of what needed doing in the house and started to look at the garden, the growing season was under way. I found some inexpensive Charlotte seed potatoes and decided to start with those, as they were a variety I had used often in the kitchen.
The 2021 potatoes were a success by my beginner’s standards, and I harvested three big bags of perfect, unblemished young potatoes.
For the 2022 growing season I picked up a bag of Jazzy seed potatoes from the local B&Q store. They were inexpensive and the seed potatoes looked really healthy. I also got a few Charlottes because the previous season’s Charlottes had done well and I felt like they might be familiar territory to revisit.
I needn’t have worried too much because the Jazzys outperformed the Charlottes in every way. They grew well and they grew strong, and they grew quickly and to a great size.
This year I am breaking out of the simple potatoes comfort zone and experimenting a little. I am still going to be growing potatoes in bags (five bags worth – a similar number to last year) but with a different variety in each. This has been made possible as I have finally found a seed potato supplier that stocks loose seed potatoes.
I had hopes that local independent garden centres might sell loose seed potatoes, but after two years I found that it was one of the big chain sellers that stock them. Dobies had a large display of seed potatoes where you could select your own, filling a little paper bag for £2.49. A bag holds 6-9 seed potatoes (depending on the variety chosen), which is about double the number needed when growing potatoes in bags, so I bought five different varieties to share between myself and Ma.
Simple & Strange
I’ve gone for a combination of unpretentious potatoes and some more tantalising tubers.
Wilja (second early)
Firm, uniform round/oval potato with yellow-brown skin. Medium-dry, good for roasting, chips, etc.
Anya (second early)
Long, knobbly form, great for wedges. Slightly sweet, nutty flavour with a waxy finish.
Salad Blue (early maincrop)
Deep purple/blue skins and flesh. High in anthocyanin. On the floury side, good for wedges, etc.
Large, uniform red skinned potatoes with firm yellow flesh. Good for everything except boiling.
King Edward (maincrop)
Cream skin with pink blush patches. Medium-dry. Good for chips, roasting, mash, etc.
Potato types and harvest timings
When I was selecting potatoes to buy, there weren’t any descriptions present for me to select based on which were earlies and maincrop varieties, so it was almost ‘luck of the draw’ when choosing.
2023 Potato Growing Plans
For two years I found the timings for growing potatoes quite confusing. There were quite a few references to when to harvest the various types (first early, second early, maincrop) potatoes, but no information on the differences in planting time. It is only in the last few weeks that I have finally conformed that they are all planted at the same time, and it is only the harvest dates that will differ. The maincrop potatoes are simply in the ground a lot longer than the earlies, giving them more time to grow. Some maincrop potatoes can be harvested as ‘early maincrop’, and are ready to eat, albeit with a less developed flavour and smaller size.
My 2023 potato growing timeline looks like this:
- February: Chit all potatoes.
- 4th Wk March: Plant out all potatoes.
- April – May: Earth up when foliage shows about compost.
- June – July: Harvest first earlies.
- July – August: Harvest second earlies.
- August – September: Harvest early maincrop.
- September – October: Harvest maincrop.
I’m looking forwards to experimenting with different varieties and seeing what yields they give. I also have some learnings from the past two years to keep in mind when making my plans:
Protect Potato Plants From Wind
The first year I grew potatoes the plants did not grow for as long as they otherwise might have as they broke in the wind. I have a very open, exposed garden and we have a lot of very windy weather. Last year I used some half-circle plant supports to support the foliage, but I found that they slipped down into the potato growing bags and so did not stay high enough in the bags. This year I will insert 4-5 long canes around the perimeter of the bag when I plant to seed potatoes, and use string to create a support.
Prepare Freezer Potatoes
Though I hope to use the majority of our potatoes fresh, there are days when I just want to grab something from the freezer. I batch cook and store a lot of garden vegetables in the freezer, but never use potatoes, and often harvest more than my family can eat (especially with the shorter-lived new potato harvests). I plan to make the absolute most of my potato harvest by ensuring that I have some grab and go potatoes in the freezer (such as potato wedges) that I can finish in the air fryer.