You’ve been asking for a while and they are finally here, seed potatoes! Some exciting new varieties this year including Otway Red: an oval-shaped all rounder with smooth red skin and cream flesh. Great results when mashed, roasted or fried!

So what is 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.

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).

Here are our 2018 varieties:

BELGIAN CREAM: A large rounded potato with a signature creamy flesh. It is best suited to baking or frying but also lends itself well to mashing.

DESIREE: A very popular all-rounder with pink skin and pale yellow waxy and floury flesh, large long and oval shaped. Resistant to drought and fairly resistant to disease. Its firm flesh 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 potato 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 mean