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Grow your own

The humble potato is versatile in dishes, filling and delicious! Here's how to grow them. By Piers Warren

Recommended varieties

First earlies, fast growing, eat as new potatoes rather than for storage.

Red Duke of York: Deep red skinned with yellow flesh, less susceptible to disease than the old and well-known Duke of York, but retaining texture and flavour.

Maris Bard: Smooth skin, scrapes well. Second earlies, can be eaten as new potatoes or left to grow bigger.

British Queen: Great flavour, good for roasting.

Orla: Smooth white skin, some resistance to scab and blight.

Early maincrop, ready for harvest around September.

Sante: The most commonly grown variety on organic farms, resistant to eelworm and blight, yellow flesh.

Desiree: Great for roasting, red skin and yellow flesh.

Late maincrop, take the longest time to grow, good for storage over winter.

Linda: Great tasting and stores well.

Arran Victory: Eye-catching purple/blue skin and white floury flesh, good yield and blight resistance.

Early varieties can be sown as soon as February under cover - in a large pot in the greenhouse for example. Later varieties in a trench in the garden in March and April. They benefit from a good layer of moisture retaining compost at the bottom of the trench.

Water well during dry periods. As the leaves show, gradually earth up the shoots to create a mound along the row - the leaves will keep pushing through - this will enable more tubers to form and reduces the chances of any turning green through exposure to the sun.

Blight, a disease spread by a fungus, can be a common problem, especially during warm and wet summers. Leaves and stems will turn brown and collapse and eventually the rot will spread to the
tubers underground.

Remove affected foliage as soon as you notice blight damage and harvest the tubers early. If blight is a common occurrence in your area, grow early varieties and practise crop rotation.

There is a web service called Blightwatch (blightwatch.co.uk) which gives warnings about blight activity - you can subscribe to email alerts for your area.

New potatoes can be harvested in May and June as required. For the maincrops, once the foliage has died down at the end of summer, cut the stems off at ground level and remove them, but leave the tubers in the ground for a further week or two.

Then carefully dig up the potatoes on a sunny day and leave on the surface to dry for a few hours. Throw away any green potatoes as these are poisonous.

Storage: Once dry, the tubers can be stored in boxes or hessian or paper sacks in a dry building in the dark. They should keep in good condition until spring, but check regularly and remove any that are rotting.

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