digging out potatoes grown in sacks

Here’s ten great tasting varieties of potato for you to try.

First earlies take around 80 days to mature, second earlies around 100 days and maincrop potatoes take on average, 130 days.

Ratte are one of the best tasting new potatoes and highly prized by top Chef’s such as Raymond Blanc. A second early planted at the end of March and harvested in early August. Good salad potato for boiling.

Vivaldi is a second early potato with a respected flavour coming first in a taste test for Gardeners World. A good all rounder for boiling and even jacket potatoes.

Swift, as the name suggests are fast growing first earlies with a great taste when boiled. If left in the ground, the potato turns floury which is good for mashing and roasting.

Pink Fir Apple is a maincrop potato which is prized for its taste. A French variety with an elongated shape.

An excellent maincrop, all rounder (boiling, chipping, roasting and mashing) is Maris Piper. A very high yielding potato, easy to grow and will definitely do well in grow bags on the surface.

Anya is a long thin tuber with an especially good taste. When boiled, they are a top quality salad potato. The taste is “nutty” like Ratte.

A potato that is recommended by many gardeners is Lady Christl a first early variety. It has been awarded the RHS award of Garden Merit too. A potato for boiling, salads and chips.

Edzell Blue is a great tasting floury potato useful for mashing, roasting and baking. A second early potato.

One of the best potatoes for taste is King Edward good for mash, chips, roasting and baking. Maincrop, not great yields and expensive in the shops, but that’s no problem for amateur growers looking for top quality.

British Queen is a second early floury type potato which is particularly good for mashing. Good for roasting and baking too. Winner of RHS Award of Merit.

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seed potatoes in a grow bag

I have found that growing potatoes above ground in large sacks can be very successful and I’ll describe the way I grow my potatoes in this article. Hopefully this will be of use to some allotment holders out there.

First, I always use Clover compost. I have never had any problems with it, whether growing seeds or plants. Now that I am using a no dig method on the allotment, I’m using more compost to make up the beds and with Clover, everything grows as it should. A top class compost which is used by a lot of professional nurseries in the UK.

You’ll need to buy some sacks to plant your potatoes in. I prefer the large heavy duty polypropylene grow bags which can be bought on Ebay. Search for “potato grow bags” and get the 19″ ones which hold around ninety litres. Note: Don’t be put off by the cost of this method. A grow bag will cost around £4 and the compost will cost around £5, but, the bags will last for years and you can re-use the spent compost to make beds for peas and beans, the following season. The fact is that this method is foolproof and you will get some fantastic potatoes.

As to the type of potatoes to grow, I always grow early “new” type potatoes for salads, boiling and cooking “au gratin”. I tend not to bother much with late potatoes (for chipping, baking or roasting), but, having said that, I will probably try some late’s this year as I fancy growing a few Maris Piper’s or King Edward’s. Growing these in the ground is always problematic as you are practically guaranteed slug damage and/or blight. Growing in sacks may prove more successful.

So, you have your seed potatoes, your grow bags and your compost. Here’s what you do…

First, strim the ground to get rid of the weeds, or go over the ground with a hoe. Place your sack on the level ground…

ninety litre potato grow bag

A ninety litre potato grow bag

Next place around ten litres of compost on the bottom of the sack…

potato grow bag polypropylene

the bag has 10 litres of compost ready for planting

We now place five seed potatoes onto the compost. One in each corner and one in the middle. NOTE: If you want to chit your potatoes first then that’s OK, but you don’t need to do this to get good growth (in my experience). Chitting your seed potatoes just involves leaving them until they start to sprout. If you have ever bought a large bag of potatoes and the last ones have been “growing”, then this is what we call “chitting”.

seed potatoes in a grow bag

Adding your seed potatoes to the grow bag

Now, you want to cover the seed potatoes with about fifteen to twenty litres of compost and water in…

potatoes planted in a grow bag on the allotment

Potatoes planted into the grow bag and watered in

We now have to wait for the potatoes to grow. The stalks (or sprouts) will push through the compost as they grow. Keep the growth covered by adding more compost. Frost will kill the potatoes if the growth is left exposed, so cover with a good layer of compost each time the growth breaks the surface (about 10 litres of compost each time). I eventually use around seventy five litres of compost per bag before letting the leaves grow on.

Potatoes need a lot of water to grow, so make sure you water regularly throughout the season.

Potatoes can be harvested when the flowers have died off. You can root around in these bags and pick a few potatoes at a time leaving the rest to grow on. Also, if you leave potatoes in the bags till the following season, you can use these as your seed potatoes to start new bags off. If the potatoes start “sprouting” they’re ready to plant out, but do throw away all the very small ones as they need to be a reasonable size to grow successfully.

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Salad potatoes are great when steamed (or boiled if you must) and served with butter they also can be used to make potato salad of course. My favourite is Charlotte and I also like Nicola.

If you grow them yourself, you can harvest before the skins have formed or are so thin that you don’t have to bother peeling. This year, I’m growing Charlotte and Nicola varieties in 70 litre sacks in the greenhouse. I’ve done this before and have even started as early as January, but this year I planted at the beginning of March. For this, you’ll need 70 litre plastic woven sacks (I got mine off ebay around 5 years ago). You’ll also need some good compost, and this year, as always, I’m using Clover. If you have made your own compost over the past year, then use that as it works out much cheaper.

You’ll need to spread a layer of compost on the bottom of the sack (around 2 inches), then place a seed potato in each corner and one in the middle. Cover each seed potatoes with compost (again about 2 inches) and water. Keep watering regularly and after a while (mine took a couple of weeks), you’ll notice the plants start to push through the compost. Cover the growth with a layer of compost. Repeat this process (water, cover growth with compost), until the bag is full. You can then transfer the bag outside if you wish, but make sure that any chance of frost has passed. Potatoes are ready to harvest when the leaves start to die off. To test if ready, push your hand into the soil and pull one of the potatoes up. You really can’t beat the taste of home grown potatoes.