Surely it’s too early to be thinking about Christmas, I hear you say. At least I think I do, amongst the many other voices in my head. I am indeed thinking about Christmas. More specifically I am thinking about potatoes at Christmas. Even more specifically, delicious home-grown roast potatoes at Christmas being proudly placed on the table to gasps of awe and admiration and maybe a harmonious chorus of Gloria!
Normally, British potatoes are home-grown from early spring throughout the summer. Instead I am planning to sow some spuds now in Potato Planters, nurture them through the autumn and hopefully harvest them in time to share oven space with whatever beast we decide to roast for Christmas lunch this year.
At this time of the year, you should be able to get hold of cold-stored potato tubers from specialist seed merchants. Maris Peer or Nicola potatoes make a good winter variety that doesn’t need chitting. I have had varying success in the past just using supermarket spuds. Grandpa Haxnicks tells me that this is because after a potato is harvested it goes into a dormant state for some months before it is ready to produce new shoots. So, either my successful supermarket spuds were particularly resistant to the stress and trauma of harvest or they had been on the shelf for a long time and were very ready to get off it and breed!
Plant your eager-to-breed tubers in the potato bags on about 6 inches of multi- purpose compost and cover with the same amount again. Each time the foliage pushes through the soil, cover it again until the bag is full. Keep them watered and fed with a liquid fertiliser. The potato bags can be kept in a greenhouse, but they should also be OK outside in the open provided they are given adequate frost protection. A cosy Fleece Jacket should do the trick, no need to bother with a scarf or gloves. In the autumn, when the foliage yellows and dies back you can cut it off and leave the potatoes in fairly dry soil until Christmas. Once harvested, be reassured that they will then enter their dormant state and therefore won’t suffer when it comes to peeling and roasting.