The potato growing aficionados among you will probably already have scores of egg boxes sitting on your windowsills with potatoes “chitting” in the sunlight in preparation for this years planting.
Now is the time, if you haven’t already to buy potatoes. Leave them much longer and they will begin to sprout in the store bags and it then becomes a complicated entanglement to get them out of the netting that most are packaged in.
One of the more traditional varieties you can pick up still is Red Duke of York which was bred in the 1940’s as a sport from it’s older parent Duke of York. Red Duke of York is a first early and should start to be ready from mid to late July although they can be left longer to get to a baking size..
Red Duke of York is not always the easiest potato to grow compared to modern varieties. It only has average disease resistance and I have had years, on heavy clay, where it has failed completely. Despite this is does have an RHS award of Garden merit at the time of publishing and it is a worthwhile addition for those wanting an early potato with a really good heritage flavour which is great for chipping and roasting.
In the kitchen
Early harvest can be steamed or lightly boiled although as they get older, the dry matter increases and they become more suited to chipping, roasting and baking.
Yield and plant health
Red Duke of York is a first early and should start to be ready from mid to late July.
Being a heritage variety, Red Dukes disease resistance and yield are only average but it will usually be harvested before blight hits. It can also get a disease called scab and slugs will have a munch, if they can. You can reduce the slugs by using nematodes watered in to the soil before planting.
You will notice in the photograph that a number are crazed. This is fairly normal for Red Duke of York and doesn’t affect the potato itself.
You can get Red Duke of York from many garden centres and suppliers but also from.
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.