Getting Going with the Potatoes
1st Jan 1997
You should by now have all your seed potatoes to hand, if you haven't, then try and get them during the next week or so in order to start the chitting process. There seems to be a greater selection of potatoes than ever at the garden centres these days, if my local one is anything to go by, and I have seen Kestrel and Winston on display.
Once you have the potatoes to hand you should then prepare them for chitting, this is a the name given for the process of getting the potatoes to produce shoots which when placed in soil develop into haulms.
There is no doubt that the timber box used for carrying tomatoes from the grower to the markets are the best to use, but these days they seem to be more difficult to get hold of so you may have to revert to the more modern stiff cardboard type. The reason that the tomato box is so popular for storing potatoes is the fact they have protruding pieces of wood at each corner which means that you can safely stack them on top of each other allowing air movement between boxes and more importantly, it allows light to get at the emerging shoots.
If you only have a few potatoes to store in such a box they can easily roll around and before you know it the rose end, (the end where the eyes are and where the shoots will sprout from) could well be up side down. I have therefore made use of eggs trays, these will fit inside the tomato box and your potatoes will then sit on the trays without moving around. Initially they will need some where warm to break the dormancy and to start the chitting or sprouting of the shoots, as soon as you can see visible signs of growth they can be moved to a cooler area with plenty of light around them. Some of the varieties are very slow to sprout and must be started in warm place very early, One particularly shy variety to throw shoots is the Bishop and I have heard of growers placing this one inside the airing cupboard to break the dormancy. Others such as Winston are prone to very early shooting and should therefore be kept in a cool room where there is access to plenty of daylight.
I always keep the potatoes in my brick built garage where I have plenty of daylight through three windows but be aware that should we have a period of continuos hard frost, they must be given protection. They can either be covered over with a blanket or better still cover them over with some Agryl fleece which not only protects them, it also permits plenty of light to continue to get through to them. The aim is to induce strong shoots that are sturdy and will therefore produce strong haulms later on. The shoots should be short, only an inch to an inch and a half or so in length but they can often be as thick as your thumb. As the season progresses they will start to throw out aerial roots and at this point I like to give them a light spray, every other day, with normal strength dose of Maxicrop which will certainly help towards producing even stronger growth.
Over the last few years I have been growing my show potatoes in a friends garden in the village using the system of trenching and lining those trenches with straw and manure and covering the potatoes with a mixture of peat, Gro bags, manure and leaf mould. Undoubtedly this system works very well and has produced some superb specimens, but it is very hard work and time consuming. This year I shall therefore change my tactics and grow them in polythene pots using the system that Allister Gray used last year with great success. Most growers will know that Allister packed in growing show vegetables six years ago and at that time was probably one of the top growers in the country, so he knows what sort of quality he was looking for. Later on I shall explain in detail the way that Allister grew them.