A new dish – growing your very own potatoes!

Burgon & Ball Patio Potato Planter

Burgon & Ball Patio Potato Planter

It’s that season again.  The days are getting longer and warmer and the garden beckons.  One of my favourite tasks is to begin the sowing of seeds of things to later harvest and eat.  Of these, the ritual of growing potatoes on my patio is one of the most rewarding.

I have chosen the two varieties for this years’ crop, one early, Charlotte and one main crop, King Edwards. They are currently chitting under my bed in readiness for planting.

It is traditional to plant the chitted potatoes on Good Friday. I do not always adhere to this as some years this feels a little too early, but this year may prove a traditional one.

I use containers to grow my potatoes as I only have a small garden.  Patio Potato Planters are just so convenient!

The potatoes are planted in about 8 inches of compost and covered by a further couple of inches of soil, watered and left. I keep an eye on the moisture level as potatoes need moisture to thrive. Once leaves have started to break through the compost add a further couple of inches of compost into the top of the patio planter. This is what my father would call ‘earthing up’. It encourages more and more potatoes to form. Once the top of my potato planter has been reached by earthing up it is then a matter of watering and waiting.

(Tempting though it may be, do not ‘peep’ to see how they are getting on).

The best way to tell that the potatoes are ready is when some of the leaves have started to change from a dark green to yellow. If possible begin harvesting the lowest potatoes first, take what is needed and leave the others to continue growing. Pick and enjoy. If more are harvested than required store in a cool, dark container such as a Potato basket.

Finally two warnings;
1) I always forget just how prolific six seed potatoes of each of the two varieties can be but friends and family always appreciate the excess produce.
2) Potato growing has, for me, become addictive. The ease of successfully growing them, the knowledge of how they were grown and also the education of my children that potatoes do not all come in plastic bags from supermarkets has got to be good enough reason or should that be excuse?

Have a go and good luck!  Do let us know how you get on.


All things green: ‘Not enough space’ is not an excuse!

My Patio Growing Plot!

As my writing depends on it, I am fortunate in that I have three allotments, all shared with my girlfriend Jeannine.  Thanks to the local council’s policy of splitting plots in half (to please twice the number of gardeners) the reality is that we have three half plots – which strikes me as half a plot less than we are entitled to!  Nonetheless, allotment waiting lists in most parts of the country now seem so long that you have to sign your grandchildren up, let alone yourself, so I count myself blessed!

We aren’t all lucky enough to have allotments or a large garden, but provided you’re not set on attaining complete self-sufficiency there is plenty you can do to grow your own in even a small space – perhaps a typical terraced-house garden, or even a patio or balcony.

Last summer I tested this theory by setting up an ultra-compact patio garden outside my kitchen door (you can see it above).  The area measures something like two metres by 80cm, and I carefully arranged planters, pots and old packing boxes to make use of the space.  These were filled with good quality compost, both home-made and shop-bought, because one trick to growing in small spaces is to make sure your plants are well fed.  The quantity and diversity of the food I managed to produce really surprised me, although of course such an intensive little plot needs some looking after.  Key to my success was the use of height – low-growing crops were interplanted with taller ones, and canes and support frames allowed climbing plants to double my ‘productive volume’.  I even had some tomatoes growing in hanging baskets – although the watering regime was at times inconvenient.

Apart from growing veg, you can also include other aspects of a well-rounded garden in a smaller plot.  Beneficial plants like marigolds and nasturtiums can be squeezed in, as can a rainwater harvesting system if you look out for a compact water butt (there are many such now available).  And at the end of the garden cycle (or is it the beginning?) don’t forget a composter.  Wormeries take up the minimum amount of room and will process your kitchen and some of your garden waste faster than any other design.

Perhaps the smallest possible growing area is a kitchen windowsill and, while no doubt limited, there are quite a few possibilities here.  Herbs should be your first option, as they are so expensive to buy fresh in shops but take up relatively little room – just one pot each of rosemary, mint, coriander and basil will transform countless dishes.  Another small-space star is a trough of cut-and-come-again salad, including some fast-growing Chinese leaves and rocket.  These will re-grow several times provided you don’t harvest them too hard.

Let me know how you get on.