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Weston area's Mark Cox shares how to get the best crop of potatoes using containers




Hello again, another week has past, more custard creams have been consumed and I have another problem, not a personal problem as this would be totally the wrong place to talk about it publicly, but a gardening conundrum that Barry from Spalding is experiencing.

Barry wrote to me, quite dismayed to be fair, because his attempt at growing some first early seed potatoes in containers had ended in disappointment but not quite failure.

Barry explained in his email that when the potatoes where growing, the leaves were always a little pale and when it came to harvesting instead of a bucket bulging with succulent potatoes he had in fact harvested seven potatoes, each of them about the size of a golf ball.

Growing potatoes in a container is the focus of this week's Out in the Garden (37992871)
Growing potatoes in a container is the focus of this week's Out in the Garden (37992871)

“Aha, the games afoot,” I thought to myself as I began to suck on the end of my pen, trying to do my best Sherlock Holmes impression. I deduce that the pale leaves Barry writes about are in fact as a result of placing too many seed potatoes into his container and I further deduce that Barry walks with a slight limp...

I immediately interviewed Barry, paying particular care to listen to his explanation as to how he planted his potatoes.

I was correct the pack of seed potatoes Barry had chosen had 10 tubers inside and he had planted five tubers into each of his two containers.

He had placed them into the bottom of his containers and then gradually earthed them up like he was trying to bury the evidence of a heinous crime.

From that moment his fate was sealed. Even with the feed he gave them as they were growing, his potatoes where destined to be no more than muddy golf balls.

“Barry,” I said, “potato tubers when grown in containers need 10 litres of soil per tuber so into your containers I would have planted no more than three tubers. Barry, it is my conclusion that your potato tubers have suffered from too much competition from each other.”

For best results fill your container with compost to about two inches/five centimetres from the top of the pot and plant your seed potatoes about two inches/five centimetres deep. This will give the growing tubers plenty of space to grow into.

Don’t overwater either at the beginning as you can gradually increase how much water you give them as they mature.

Once you have a good canopy of foliage, I’d recommend that you feed them with tomato feed every other watering. Leaf colour is a great indicator of plant health. Continue caring for your potatoes in this way for about 80 days for first earlies or 100 days for second earlies and when you come to harvest you’ll have a bumper crop of potatoes and not brown golf balls.

I didn’t want Barry to feel too downhearted so I suggested to him that he have a go at growing second season or Christmas potatoes. They have been cold stored to prevent sprouting and are ready to go. They enjoy warmer growing conditions and soon romp away. Feeling very smug with, I told my wife about Barry’s muddy golf balls only for her to point out that my mouth was blue. I’d been pretending to smoke a pipe and my pen had leaked.


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