I’ve not had much success growing first earlies that get to a large enough size to be bakers. My Red Duke of York was a disaster. Winston is the first I’d had much success with although with the very dry spring we had, tubers were on the small side although they are supposed to be drought tolerant.
Taste & eating – A baker/roaster in size but not floury. It’s slightly watery texture means you probably use butter. It does mean it is hard to get them to properly crisp. Taste is not as amazing as catalogues suggest being mild. The skins are thin and do rub off if you are overly zealous on the cleaning side.
Yield & plant health – RHS award. Tubers were fairly uniform although quite a few tiny ones, even though the foliage. Some scab and slug damage. Early so avoids most of the blight.
Grow again – Maybe although the quest for an early baker continues.
When your seed potatoes arrive, remove them from the packaging and lay eye side up in egg boxes or on paper in a light, cool but frost free place. This is called chitting.
In late march – early April dig a narrow trench about 10cm deep. To improve yield you can line with compost or well rotted manure but it will make the potatoes more prone to slugs. You can water in some nematodes if it is warm enough who will infect any nearby slugs and will offer some protection for 6 weeks. You can repeat by watering them in when earthing up but make sure you are watering the soil not the foliage.
Space the seed potatoes 40cm apart in rows 30cm apart. Cover the potatoes with the soil from the trench. When the halms appear above the surface you will need to cover them with earth if there is sign of a frost coming. When they are about 20cm high you will want to draw soil about 15cm up the stems in to a flat topped ridge. This will reduce the likelihood of getting green potatoes due to light exposure as these are toxic. You can also earth up with a mulch of compost or straw.
Potatoes will not need much watering except in the driest of weathers when you would want to water well once a week. As a rule more water will lead to larger, but also more watery potatoes.
You can buy specialist potato fertiliser but a sprinkling of organic bone meal dug lightly in to the soil is probably all they will need, especially if you have dug in compost or manure on planting or have earthed up with compost.
Pests and diseases
Slugs – You can reduce the slugs by using nematodes watered in to the soil before planting.
Scab – Causes rough scabby patches on the potato skin and the flesh underneath. It is unsightly and can affect storage potential. Any potatoes with scab should be used quickly.
Blight – Fungal infection that can devastate any potato crop that has no resistance. Leaves will show browning patches, which get more and more prolific, including on the stems until the entire plant is covered. The foliage of any potato showing signs of blight should be cut down to the stems and removed. The potatoes left in the ground for a week before being dug up. If not caught early, blight can infect tubers, which will rot in storage but some are more resistant that others. There is no non chemical cure but some varieties are resistant.