Seed Potato time!

seed potaTo TIME!

seed potato planting package CERES
What's a seed potato?

Well, it’s actually a tuber, not a seed. They are called seed potatoes because we use them to “seed” the soil and grow new potatoes. This is a form of vegetative propagation where the plants you grow will be genetically identical to the parent material (the tubers you chopped up for propagating). 

Seed potatoes come from growers who have subjected their crop to agricultural testing to ensure they are disease free. Potatoes are quite susceptible to soil-borne rots, viruses and pests, so this is important. Seed potatoes are also grown only a limited number of times from the same stock to ensure vigour. If you save your own potatoes and use them as seed potatoes you may find that they don’t do as well after several successive plantings. In contrast, seed potatoes are produced from new plants every few years. Usually after the seventh generation they cannot be classed as seed potatoes. Clear as mud? The good news is you don’t have to understand all this to grow potatoes! Just look for certified seed potatoes and you know the growers have done the science for you.

seed potato variety collage

Potatoes are one of the easiest and most productive backyard crops. Plant in late winter to early spring, but if you are planting early remember that potatoes are susceptible to frost, so once their tops have come up, they will need protection on frosty nights.
Cut your potatoes into pieces (each chunk must contain an ‘eye’) at least a day before planting to allow the cut surface to seal. After the initial watering-in, don’t water until the shoots have appeared, and then only enough to keep the growing medium just moist. Once tubers begin to form, it is key to prevent them being exposed to any sunlight, which will turn them green and toxic. This is one reason for all the mounding of soil and layering of straw you are about to read about, but the other reason is that more and more potatoes will form along those stems you have covered over, enabling harvests of up to 7kg per potato planted!
Harvest your potatoes once the plants have started to yellow and wither (14-16 weeks) – this is essential if you want to store them, as their skins will have reached full thickness by then. Otherwise you can have a sneaky feel around in growing medium, and gently pull out a few early ones after 10 weeks or so.

Growing Potatoes

Potatoes are one of the easiest and most productive backyard crops. Plant in late Winter to early Spring, but if you are planting early remember that potatoes are susceptible to frost, so once their tops have come up, they will need protection on frosty nights.
Cut your potatoes into pieces (each chunk must contain an ‘eye’) at least a day before planting to allow the cut surface to seal. After the initial watering-in, don’t water until the shoots have appeared, and then only enough to keep the growing medium just moist. Once tubers begin to form, it is key to prevent them being exposed to any sunlight, which will turn them green and toxic. This is one reason for all the mounding of soil and layering of straw you are about to read about, but the other reason is that more and more potatoes will form along those stems you have covered over, enabling harvests of up to 7kg per potato planted!
Harvest your potatoes once the plants have started to yellow and wither (14-16 weeks) – this is essential if you want to store them, as their skins will have reached full thickness by then. Otherwise you can have a sneaky feel around in growing medium, and gently pull out a few early ones after 10 weeks or so.


In-ground growing

Dig 20cm deep trenches into loose organic matter-rich soil, and drop a spud chunk in every 40cm. Rake the soil back over to cover, top the whole area with a 5cm layer of well-rotted manure (sheep is perfect), and ideally add a handful of blood and bone mixed with a heaped spoonful of potash per square metre. Cover with a 2cm layer of straw mulch and water in well. Once the tops are up, usually in about 3 weeks, you can either hill up the soil from between the rows to cover them, topping with another layer of straw to prevent the soil washing away, or simply cover the whole lot with more straw mixed with some more manure (instead of manure you could use compost mixed with a sprinkle of blood and bone).


On-ground growing

Essentially as above, but instead if digging trenches, you start by mowing any grass or weeds (leave them where they fall), and laying down about 6 sheets thickness of wet newspaper on top them. Place your potato chunks at 40cm spacings over the area, and cover them with about 50cm thickness of straw. Top this with the same layers of manure, blood and bone and potash as above, but in this case the blood and bone and potash are much more important, as they will aid in breaking down the straw into a perfect potato growing medium. Water in very well. Once the tops appear, spread another 5-10cm of straw about. This method has the advantage of being able to lift up the corner of your straw carpet to steal early potatoes, of providing you with nearly clean soil-free potatoes at harvest time, and of leaving the soil in the growing area in wonderful condition.

 

Container growing

A large pot, an old bath tub (with added drainage holes), a half wine barrel, a hessian sack, or a cylinder of fine-mesh chicken wire all count as containers. Provide a 20cm bed of soil to put your spuds on, and layer as above, using any mixture of soil, straw, manure etc., keeping in mind to balance straw and manure to provide good nutrition. The advantage here is that you can easily keep covering the tops as they appear right to the top of the pot, maximizing your harvest (if using a hessian sack start with it rolled down, then simply roll up the edges as you continue to fill it).

growing seed potatoes in hessian sacks

POTATO VARIETIES

  • BANANA
  • BRAKE LIGHT
  • DESIREE: A very popular all-rounder with pink skin and pale yellow, firm flesh that holds its shape well so is excellent boiled, baked, mashed and in salads but not recommended for frying.
  • DUTCH CREAM: The queen of potatoes! They’re a large waxy oval potatoes with yellow flesh, thin skin and a rich, buttery taste. They make gorgeous mash or are equally delicious boiled, roasted, baked and pureed.
  • KING EDWARD: A very old variety with a floury texture and creamy white flesh with a round to oval shape and smooth pale skin with pink markings. Its floury texture means it makes beautiful mash, fluffy roast potatoes and can be dry baked but is not recommended for salads or frying.
  • KIPFLER: A waxy, finger-shaped, knobbly potato with yellow skin and a light yellow flesh with a buttery nutty taste that is great boiled, steamed, in salads and roasted but not recommended for frying or chips.
  • NICOLA: Take solace in this dependable potato. It’s waxy/ buttery texture and subtle sweetness make it perfect for mashing, baking and gnocchi, mid-late season planting.
  • PINK FIR APPLE: An old English heritage variety that is long and knobbly with pale pink skin. This potato is waxy and very firm so it’s great for salads and boiling and has been called the ‘ultimate’ potato salad potato. Not recommended for roasting. Cook these potatoes in the skin because they are hard to peel.
  • PINK ROSE
  • PONTIAC: A very reliable all-rounder with pink skin and white flesh. Great to boil, bake, roast, microwave and mash but not suitable for frying
  • ROYAL BLUE: An oval-shaped all-rounder with purple skin and yellow flesh that makes wonderful mash, great roast potatoes and chips and is a versatile potato suitable for all cooking purposes.
  • RUSSET BURBANK: A large brown-skinned, white flesh potato that yields late in the season. This is THE potato for French fries and good for baking.
  • SEBAGO: A long to oval-shaped all-rounder with white flesh and skin that’s common in supermarkets and greengrocers around Australia. This potato is great for boiling, mashing, roasting, baking, chips and mash.
  • SPUNTA: A Dutch variety, this yellow-fleshed all-rounder is good boiled or steamed and makes lovely potato salad. Spunta gives high yields of large tubers that are long and waxy with a mild flavour.

Contact

Corner of Roberts & Stewart Streets, Brunswick East, VIC 3057
 
(03) 9389 0111
 
nursery@ceres.org.au
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