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How to grow chips – Part One

We take them for granted, don’t we?

If I stopped a few random people in the street, and asked if they could name any varieties of potatoes, I bet I’d get a fair proportion of “roast”, “mash”, “chips” or (maybe) “duchesse”. I doubt if I’d get many Edzell Blues or Pentland Javelins.

Even in the supermarket, we seem to have invented a new ubiquitous variety: “White”!

But the humble tattie is a diverse beast. Can you fail to be intrigued by Pink Fir Apple? Can you resist the temptations of Desiree? Will Kestrel not wing you off on flights of fancy?

Sorry, I’ll try not to get so excited.

Let’s get down to some spud facts.

Potatoes are grown from tubers, known as seed potatoes, which are simply selected potatoes from last year’s crop. You can save your own, or you can buy seed potatoes in the garden centres, or from mail order seed companies. It is unwise to use eating potatoes as seed, as potatoes frequently carry viruses (harmless to us, but damaging to the plant), and seed potatoes are grown specifically to be virus-free. They are tested, and sold as “Certified Seed”. But if you start from certified seed, your home-saved tubers should be okay for many subsequent years.

Seed potatoes need to be chitted, or sprouted, in advance of planting. If you’ve saved your own seed, you will have stored them in a cool but frost-free, dark place – traditionally this would have been under the bed next to the chanty, in the days when the bedroom was like a fridge and the plumbing was mostly external. Remove them from wherever you have hidden them about a month before planting time, and set them in trays in a light place, but still cool but frost-free.

You’ll note that I try to avoid giving planting and sowing times in these gardening snippets. Nothing annoys me more than TV gardeners from tropical Kent telling me I should be sowing something now, when my garden is under three feet of snow. So I try to avoid the same mistake in reverse. I realise that when I’m freezing my tubers off, some of you less climatically challenged souls may be tilling your soil. And vice versa. It varies from area to area, and from year to year. Use your own judgement.

All potatoes like a heavily manured soil. Dig in all the FYM you can get your hands (or fork, perhaps) on, and/or be lavish with your own garden compost. You can add a potato fertiliser, or some Growmore, just before planting time, if you wish.

Take out a trench about 150mm deep, plant early varieties about 300mm apart, and maincrop varieties about 450mm apart. The rows should be about 600mm apart for earlies, and 750mm for maincrop. Draw the soil back over the tubers, and wait.

Weed regularly, and when the foliage has grown up a bit, draw soil up against it to form ridges. Young tubers continue to form up the stems which are buried in this way, increasing the crop. And there’s only one way to tell when they’re ready – try ’em.

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