Nothing beats that freshly dug, earthy taste of your own homegrown spuds and second cropping potatoes are possibly one of the most rewarding crops you can grow. Just imagine……….the yummy taste of Spring at a time when nothing much else is growing in the Polytunnel, fresh new potatoes with your Christmas dinner from your own Polytunnel, harvested the same day are quite honestly unbeatable, totally delicious and they certainly go down well with the family! Why don’t you grow Christmas potatoes this year?
When Should You Plant Your Potatoes?
As they need 65 to 100 days from planting to harvest, timing the planting is pretty critical. It’s difficult to know exactly when to plant when some people recommend planting as early as the end of June and others as late as October.
Since growing will slow down as plants move into autumn, it is generally better to start your Christmas potatoes earlier rather than later, so they can put on plenty of growth during the summer months when growth is quickest, before they head into a more dormant or slow growing period towards the big day.
These summer plantings allow you to have fresh-dug potatoes for your Christmas meals, rather than relying on maincrop potatoes lasting in storage all that time. Planting potatoes in mid-summer for Christmas cropping is becoming more and more popular. This removes the problems attendant with storing potatoes over the winter months.
Which Varieties Are Best For Christmas Potatoes?
Late cropping are “Bambino”, “Carlingford”, “Charlotte”, “Elizabeth”, “Maris Peer”, “Maris Piper” and ” Vales Emperor” are all good options for Christmas potatoes.
Where and How To Plant Christmas Potatoes
If you can avoid it, try not to plant your 2nd crop potatoes in the same place as you planted your “normal” crop of potatoes. Now if you really can’t avoid it, especially as the nutrients in the soil will have been depleted, you must use a balanced potato fertiliser or feed with loads of liquid feed.
Another way to grow them, possibly a better way and definitely our favourite, is to grow your late potatoes in large containers or grow bags. Filled with good quality multi-purpose compost and potato fertiliser, the grow bags can be placed outside if the weather is mild and moved inside the Polytunnel and topped up with compost in stages as the shoots lengthen.
Note that you cannot replant first early potatoes harvested in the early summer because these will still be in a long dormant phase that they go through after harvesting. You can purchase seed potatoes that have been kept in cold storage or, next year, you could hold back the potatoes yourself from the ones bought in late winter. These will develop long and rather fragile sprouts when kept in a cool and light place through the spring and early summer. You will, however, have to check these regularly as there could be a risk of aphid infestation.
It is important to keep the growing medium moist but not to overwater. If the compost becomes too saturated then it can become compacted and oxygen depleted. This can make it difficult for the tubers to grow. When you get the watering regime right, however, you can enjoy the delicious taste of new potatoes throughout the winter months.
Be aware that potatoes are frost-tender, so growing them late in the year can be a problem if left outside. However, if you cover them over with fleece, you should have an excellent crop and be the envy of all your family and bask in the glory that you have earned.
Protecting Christmas Potato Plants From Frost
Even in a polytunnel, late potatoes may still need a little extra protection from frost. You can provide the foliage with extra protection by draping them with horticultural fleece, which can help to keep off the worst of the chill. You can also wrap containers used for potatoes in bubble wrap to protect the roots, or mulch around plants in a polytunnel growing area with a thick mulch of straw or another insulative material.
Planting Christmas potatoes is a good excuse to ‘get your hands dirty’ on Christmas morning!
For more monthly growing tips and advice please visit please check out our handy series of guides on polytunnels and year-round growing and eating.
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK