Spoiled for choice ... there are close to 4000 different varieties of potato.
Spoiled for choice ... there are close to 4000 different varieties of potato.

Clone and grow your own potatoes

IT'S time to plant potatoes. They are easy to grow, and very productive. One kilogram of seed potatoes (spud tubers which have formed "eyes") should yield about 10kg of spuds, so it is quite economical, and the flavour of freshly dug potatoes is far superior to those that you buy in the supermarket.

They need a sunny position in fertile, slightly acidic, well-drained soil, and will be ready to harvest in three or four months. It's a good idea to use certified virus potato-free seed potatoes to minimise the risk of disease, and to get good yields. Cut seed potatoes into pieces which each contain two or three eyes. Ideally, allow the cuts to dry for 24 hours or so before planting to reduce the risk of rotting.

Plant the pieces about 30-40cm apart with the eyes facing upwards, and cover them with about 15cm of soil or compost. As the vines grow, mound soil or compost around them to keep the developing tubers covered. Your spuds will form between the seed piece and the surface of the soil, so you will get a better crop if you keep hilling the soil up around the plant as it grows. Ensure that you don't bury the plant completely, and also that there is enough soil covering the growing potatoes so they are not exposed to light. If they are, the tubers will turn green and should not be eaten.

Keep the plants moist, but not soggy. Once the plants start to flower, you can hunt for new potatoes, which can be washed and eaten immediately. They don't store well. When the tops of the plants die off, then it's time to dig up the fully grown potatoes. Leave the soil on them and store in a cool, dark, dry place. If any are damaged as you dig them, eat these first as they won't keep as well as undamaged ones.

You can grow your spuds in a tower if you don't have room in the garden, or if you have very heavy clay soil that is inclined to stay a bit wet in winter. Here in the nursery, we've made a tower using a piece of chicken wire about 1m tall, sitting on top of a big pot. We used a pot so we could move it around, but you could make a tower that just sits on the ground. Put some straw or sugar cane mulch and compost in the bottom, then add the seed potatoes, and cover with more compost and mulch. As the plants grow, keep adding compost and mulch until your tower is about 80-100cm tall.

Beans, cabbage, tansy, nasturtium, coriander and catnip are good companions for potatoes. Keep potatoes away from tomatoes, sunflowers, pumpkins, squash and cucumbers, and don't plant them where you have had other solanaceous crops such as tomatoes, capsicum and eggplant in the past two years.