You’ll never taste better potatoes than ones you’ve grown yourself, but if you’re put off by the amount of valuable planting space they take up, here’s a simple solution: grow them in an old bin on your patio, balcony, or wherever there’s a sunny corner in your garden. Here’s how to get a bumper harvest of spuds from a humble black bin.
Choose your potato
Potatoes tend to generate a lot of foliage, so if you don’t have much space, you’ll want to choose ‘early’ potatoes which don’t get quite as bushy as the larger main crop varieties. Jersey Royals used to be one of the most popular ‘early’ options but now there are many more to choose from. Try Maris Peer which combines depth of flavour with being easy to grow. Fancy something a little more unusual? Try the Red Duke of York, a pink skinned potato with a light fluffy texture.
Alternatively, go for a maincrop potato which is harvested slightly later and stores well over the winter. Maris Piper is a great all-rounder – a good choice for beginners, it crops well and produces a larger, great tasting spud you can mash, roast, boil or bake. Desiree is another excellent choice, especially if you love your potatoes baked. Alternatively, the Purple Peruvian, also known as the “Gem of the Andes” is purple all the way through and is ideal boiled, baked or fried.
Chit your potatoes
Buy seed potatoes from a reputable retailer and you’re virtually guaranteed they’re disease free and will be strong sprouters. Before planting you need to “chit” them.
Take an old egg box and place a seed potato, eyes facing up, into each of the cardboard cups. Put the potatoes somewhere reasonably warm and light – like the kitchen windowsill or porch. Once the potatoes have sprouted, or “chitted”, rub off all but the two or three most vigorous sprouts.
When should I plant my seed potatoes?
Once you’ve chitted your seed potatoes and the shoots are about 3cm long, they’re ready to plant. Container potatoes can be started a little earlier than those going into the ground, but RHS guidelines for when to plant seed tubers are:
- First earlies: plant around late March (ready to lift in June and July)
- Second earlies: plant early to mid-April (ready to lift in July and August)
- Maincrops: plant mid- to late April (harvest from late August to October)
Prepare your bin
Spuds aren’t particular about the bin you choose for them to grow in as long as there’s plenty of room for them to produce tubers, and crucially, there’s plenty of drainage. To achieve this, you need a drill and a big drill bit – 10mm ought to do it.
Now simply drill plenty of holes in the bottom of the bin and around its side to a height of about 10cm from the base. Place a layer of stones, hardcore or broken up polystyrene in the bottom of your bin to make drainage even better, and you’re ready to add a thick layer (approximately 4”) of quality general purpose compost.
Place your chitted seed potatoes into the soil with the sprouts facing up. As a rule of thumb, each potato needs 10 litres of volume in which to grow, so a standard 50l bin will take four or five seed potatoes. Cover the potatoes with another 4”–6” of the compost and water well.
Soon you’ll see a chunky shoot poking through the soil. Let it grow a few inches before covering it with soil until only the topmost leaves protrude. Known as “layering up” this helps to maximise your harvest by ensuring the plant grows right from the bottom to the top of your bin.
Remember to position your bin in a reasonably sunny spot, and water regularly (but without drenching the soil to the point where the developing tubers rot in the waterlogged compost).
Make sure that your developing potatoes remain well covered with soil and protected from sunlight. Light turns tubers green and green potatoes are poisonous.
You’ll know your potatoes are getting ready to harvest when the plants begin to flower. You can even check on progress by carefully rummaging in the soil and feeling how big the tubers are getting.
Some people like to take a few potatoes while they’re small and tasty, leaving the rest to mature – others prefer to wait until the foliage dies away before tipping out the bin and harvesting all at once.
With maincrops for storage, wait until the leaves turn yellow, then cut and remove them. Leave for 10 days before harvesting the tubers, leaving them to dry for a few hours before storing. However you time your cropping, always store your harvest in a paper or hessian sack and put it somewhere cool and dark.
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