New potatoes at Christmas are such a classic for my family, along with a delicious glazed ham and a BBQ of course. And to be able to bring your own potatoes to the dinner table at Christmas is such a treat.
The idea of growing my own potatoes always intrigued me, but I always thought it was one of those vegetables that are in the too hard basket for an urban gardener, and don’t you need to dig really deep, or have old tires? Well, that’s what I thought, but thankfully, it is not true!
Did you know you can grow your own potatoes IN BAGS! Yes, BAGS! If you’re keen to learn how to grow your own potatoes for Christmas or just for fun, then let’s get into this!
WHEN: Late winter or early spring. Potatoes take around 4ish months from when you first start the sprouting, until when you want to harvest them – so working back from Christmas, mid-August to early September is a good time to start your potatoes.
WHAT YOU NEED:
- Seed potatoes (choose an early variety to make sure you have them in time for Christmas – I used the Summer Beauty variety)
- Egg carton
- Sacks or garden bags – making sure that there are drainage holes to allow for water to move out of the bag (I used two 45 litre tree bags)
- Vegetable mix or potting mix
- Potato food (optional)
1. Once you have your seed potatoes, you need to let them sprout before you can plant them. This is called “chitting”. I put my seed potatoes in an egg carton so that they stay in place. Make sure that if there are any little sprouts already forming, that you put this side up. Place your egg carton in a dry spot (I kept mine on top of the fridge), out of direct sunlight, and leave for about a month until the sprouts have grown. It really depends on the conditions how fast and long your sprouts will grow, but after a month they should be between 2cm and 4cm long and will be ready to plant. Doing this really speeds up the growth process and improves your chances of success!
2. (After about a month) When your sprouts have formed, it’s time to plant your potatoes in the sacks. Put a layer of about 10 cm of soil in the bottom of your bags – if you are using potato food, mix in according to the ratio specific to your plant food.
3. Water the soil well – also checking that your drainage holes are sufficient.
4. Place your sprouted potatoes in the soil, with the sprouted end facing upwards. Potatoes are generally planted about 20cm apart from each other in rows, however, my garden bag was about 40cm diameter and I planted 4 seed potatoes in each bag (I used two bags). Some people recommend only planting 3, but I wanted to make sure that if one failed, I wasn’t left with too small of a harvest.
5. Gently cover the potatoes with more soil, until the tops of the sprouts are just covered, and then water the soil well.
6. As the sprouts start to turn into stems and leaves, the growth can be quite rapid and the stems can grow really tall. During this growth time, it is important to keep topping the bags up with soil every week, making sure that you add enough soil to cover the stems, leaving just the leaves exposed. I did this once a week, or sometimes twice a week if I noticed really fast growth until I reached the top of the bag (40cm height).
7. Every couple of weeks, make sure to add a bit more plant food to the soil too, especially if the growth has been quite rapid, and there is a lot of new growth. When you are growing plants in containers, a lot of nutrients are lost from the soil as the water moves down through the soil and out the bottom of the container so it’s important to replace these nutrients using fertilisers or plant food.
8. Growing in containers also means that the soil is likely to dry out faster – make sure that your potatoes are watered well, especially as the weather starts to warm up in summer. You want to keep your soil moist, but not wet. If you underwater your potatoes, your harvest won’t be as impressive, and if you overwater your potatoes, they could rot, so it is better to lean towards underwatering if you are unsure.
9. Place your sacks in a spot that gets good sunlight and airflow – this will ensure that your plants have the best chance at success, and the good thing about sacks, is that you can move them if the conditions become unfavourable.
10. Depending on the variety you grow, after about 90 to 120 days, your plants should start to sprout flowers. When the flowers are fully in bloom, you know that your potatoes are ready to harvest. The foliage can also start to die back when they are ready. I left my potatoes in the bags right up until I was ready to harvest for Christmas, even though some flowers had started to bloom a few weeks earlier. Early varieties of potatoes have soft skin and so can’t be stored for long periods of time.
11. When you are ready to harvest, pull up the stems and dig out your potato babies. This is the most fun and so rewarding and you can use your hands to dig them out too! And after months of waiting, you will have your beautiful, new potatoes ready for Christmas. Wash off the dirt, and prepare for your Christmas dinner!
The taste of new potatoes is so amazing and you will look forward to growing your own potatoes every year. Simply boiling them and serving them with butter is so delicious and for something a little bit extra, try roasting them with olive oil, garlic, and rosemary. The skins are so soft and tender that you don’t even need to peel them and your Christmas dinner guests will be blown away by not only your gardening skills but your cooking too!