Grow Your Own

by Jenny White

New potatoes



Harvesting

If you planted potatoes in mid-March you should be able to harvest your first crop of new potatoes now. Nothing beats the taste of home-grown spuds and there’s plenty you can do with them, from roasting and sautéing through to straightforward boiling. First, though, you need to get them out of the ground safely. At this time of year you can dig them up as you need them, a plant at a time. Take your fork and approach the plant from the side, levering up the tubers. You’ll probably end up spearing a few, but don’t worry – there should be plenty to go around. Be sure you dig up all the tubers, because any left in the ground will sprout next year as a weed, and may harbour disease.

Recipe: thyme-roasted new potatoes

Roasting may not be the most obvious use for new potatoes but the results speak for themselves, and work particularly well with light summer food such as barbequed meats and salad. If you prefer, you can replace the thyme with rosemary.

Ingredients (Feeds 4)

  • 1 kg new potatoes
  • A small handful of thyme, stalks removed
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

To make

  • Par-boil the potatoes for 5 minutes.
  • Drain the potatoes then return to the pan, then pour in several generous glugs of olive oil, put the lid on and shake so that the potatoes are covered.
  • Tip the potatoes into a roasting tray and sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper. Bake at gas mark 6, 200 degrees Celsius, for 40-50 minutes until crisp and golden.

Planting

As well as harvesting potatoes this month, you should also get planting in order to give yourself a delicious crop of new potatoes in the autumn. Don’t be tempted to plant potatoes from your supermarket, as these are often treated to prevent sprouting, and they are not certified as disease free. Choose your seed potatoes with care (if you can’t find them in a local garden centre, order them online). There are hundreds of varieties to choose from, so shopping for them is far more interesting than the average supermarket trip. Choose potatoes that are smooth-skinned, a good size and definitely not sprouting. Before planting you should chit them, which means putting them in a cool place where they get some light (but away from direct sunlight). Wait until they grow stubby shoots, and then plant them. You don’t have to plant them directly in the ground – you can use pots or old compost bags or even a dustbin, as long as you put drainage holes in the bottom. Wherever you plan to plant them, take a trowel and make a hole about 10 cm deep. Pop your potatoes in and pull soil from the sides to cover them. For decent sized potatoes, keep them well fertilized (tomato feed works well). As the plants grow, the tubers (the actual potatoes) tend to push their way towards the light, which will make them turn green. Green potatoes are inedible – they contain poisonous solanine, which causes stomach upsets – so you need to prevent them reaching the light. You do this by pulling earth over them – a process known as ‘earthing up’ which also helps protect them from frost in the colder months. Your potatoes will take about 12 weeks to become big enough to eat, so any potatoes planted now should be ready by October.

Trouble shooting

The biggest problem your potatoes will face at this time of year is potato blight, an infectious mold which loves humid weather. Blight is a serious and very destructive potato disease – it was the cause of the Irish potato famine. It takes hold when its spores develop on the leaves and are washed into the soil by the rain. The spores reach the potato plants on the wind but they also survive in the ground in infected tubers, which is why it’s important to leave nothing in the ground when you dig up your plants each year. Symptoms of blight include dark blotches on leaf tips and plant stems, plus white mould under the leaves if the weather is particularly humid. Infected tubers are black, shrunken and rotten.
You can fight potato blight by growing resistant strains of potato such as Cara, Remarka or Romano, or using a preventive spray such as Bordeaux or Dithane. Another strategy – if blight has hit the leaves of your plants but not yet moved down to the tubers – is to pile soil high around the stems to make it harder for the blight to travel down to the tuber. Alternatively you could remove and incinerate any leaves that show signs of blight.

Other foods you could be harvesting now

  • Carrots
  • Broad beans
  • French beans
  • Runner beans
  • Courgettes
  • Onions
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers

Other foods you could be planting now

  • Lettuce
  • French beans
  • Radishes
  • Beetroot
  • Parley
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower