Growing your own potatoes can be really rewarding.
Potatoes like fertile, moist, light soil and don’t really like heavy clay soils. If you have heavy soil, there are other alternatives that I’ll explain below.
Although you can plant potatoes that you buy from the shop, seed potatoes are recommended. Imported potatoes are illegal to grow for biosecurity reasons (there are some plant diseases that our WA growers don’t have, so we want to keep it that way). Seed potatoes have been specially selected for healthy stock. They are generally smaller and disease resistant. The commercial stock are often sprayed to help stop rotting. Certified Organic seed potatoes are available and they haven’t been sprayed. These are ideal but they need to be planted fairly quickly.
Once you have your potatoes, leave them in a bright area for a few days. This will allow chitting to occur. Chitting is where the eyes start to sprout. Some people cut their potatoes into pieces to increase their stock. There is a greater possibility of rotting once the potato is cut, so ensure the cut potatoes are dried for another 24 hours before they’re planted.
When to plant: Most people plant in autumn in Perth, whilst the soil is warm and growth is good. They generally don’t like hot weather where they are more prone to diseases and pests.
When to harvest: You can generally harvest your potatoes after about fifteen weeks, depending on growing conditions. The plant will begin to yellow off and die back. Once dug up, dry the potatoes and store them immediately in a cool, dry, dark place. The tubers will turn green if exposed to light.
Here are some different methods for growing potatoes:
No-dig method: Place the seed potatoes on the ground, about 30cm apart. Pile a mix of pea hay, compost and aged manure on the potatoes, about 30cm high. Water well. In two to three weeks, the plant should appear through the hay. Keep adding more hay mix and repeat the process, ensuring the tubers aren’t exposed to sunlight.
Growing on hay: With this method, you can grow anywhere, even on the top of paving. It’s similar to the no-dig method. All you have to do is place about 20cm of hay down first before positioning your seed potatoes. This method allows easy access to the potatoes and you can just lift the hay when you want to harvest them, without killing the plant or disturbing the tubers.
Traditional: Dig a trench about 30cm deep and fill with quality soil, aged manure and well-rotted compost, removing any rocks or sticks that could distort the growing tubers. Mix the materials together and water it in. Plant the seed potatoes about 30cm deep and 30cm apart with the largest eyes facing up. Don’t allow the soil to dry out, but don’t over-water it either. Ensure there is good drainage to help avoid rotting. Once the plant grows about 25cm high, add more quality soil around the plant to promote a heavier crop. Each seed potato should yield about ten potatoes.
Growing in tyres: I don’t use this method as I don’t like the idea of growing food in tyres. There are different alternatives to tyres, such as stackable wooden frames.
Fill a tyre with hay and place about five seed potatoes on top. Add more hay, then add another tyre, more hay, potatoes, hay, tyre, hay, potatoes etc. until you have four or five tyres stacked. Place about 5cm of quality soil on the top and water well. When the shoots are about 30cm high, harvest the top tyre, then about two weeks later you can harvest the next tyre, and so on.