There is something very satisfying about scraping back the soil to reveal your first potato harvest. If you just can’t wait to try your homegrown potatoes then a small sowing of Rocket may be for you. Rocket is a first early and is one of the earliest potato crops in the UK. It probably just pips Swift to the crown of earliest potatoes. Rock can be lifted, in warmer parts of the UK where frost protection has been given as early as late May, for most it will be about 10-12 weeks after planting.
Rocket was developed in 1987 by the Plant Breeding Institute who also developed the famous Maris Piper. It can be grown in pots or under polythene for extra frost protection
Rocket is a baby waxy new potato. For potato connoisseurs they will find the taste a little…mild (i.e bland) so I wouldn’t give much space to them but I do sow some in pots for an early potato harvest. If you are prepared to wait a little longer then you might want to try swift instead which has a little more flavour.
In the kitchen
Rocket is a waxy, baby new potato which is best steamed, boiled or saute. Try adding a sprig of mint when cooking and a knob of butter to finish.
Yield and plant health
For a little potato, rocket yields are high. This means it can be ideal for container growing. You need to harvest this before 13 weeks and doesn’t store well so only sow enough for a couple of weeks eating when you can then move on to other, slightly later first earlies like Potato Red Duke of York, Potato – Casablanca, Potato – Winston or Lady Crystal.
Rocket has very low resistance to late blight, which probably will not be an issue if growing as a first early. It is also susceptible to scab although has good resistance to other pests and diseases.
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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.