Harvesting and eating fresh new potatoes is a joy many look forward to each year. If it's on your bucket list for 2012 to have them ready by Christmas day, now is the time to get organised.
They are an easy crop to grow, taking between three to four months to mature and be ready for harvest.
The key ingredient for a tasty crop is lots of sun - spuds don't thrive in the shade. Next you need certified seed potatoes, loose fertile soil, water and time.
There are numerous different varieties of potatoes. Choose a variety which lends itself to the type of cooking you prefer.
Christmas Day - Cliff Kidney, Jersey Benne, Maris Anchor, Swift
Roasting - Moonlight, Agria, Rua
New potatoes, boiling - Nadine, Jersey Benne, Cliffs Kidney
Mashing - Moonlight, Agria, Ilam Hardy
Growing in buckets or planter bags - Cliff Kidney, Rocket
For a list of potato varieties available in stores, and more detailed information visit www.tuitime.co.nz
SPROUT IT - THE SEED POTATO
Before the warm weather arrives begin by sprouting or "chitting" seed potatoes. Choose certified seed potatoes, these have been specifically grown to produce a reliable crop in the home garden and are free from pests and diseases that can harm and affect potato taste and harvest.
To sprout, simply lay the seed potatoes flat on a tray or box somewhere dry. Small green shoots will appear, once they are about finger length they are ready to plant. The process can take two to four weeks.
Because potatoes grow under the ground, the soil needs to be loose to allow the roots to penetrate and the potatoes to develop. Dig garden beds to a depth of 20-30cm, next blend in potato food and organic compost or sheep pellets. The more time you spend preparing your soil prior to planting increases the likely hood of a tasty outcome.
Make a trench in the soil about 10cm deep, plant the sprouted seed potatoes in the middle of the trench, with the shoots facing upwards about 30-50cm apart.
In pots or tyres plant three to five seeds per container. As shoots appear above the ground, "mole up" or mound up the soil to cover the new shoots. This encourages the plant to work harder to produce a larger crop under the soil. Continue doing this until the plants are about 30cm tall then let the foliage grow up and flower.
Potatoes are made up of a high quantity of water, so to make sure good-sized potatoes develop, ensure the crop is kept moist but not water logged.
Potatoes are ready to harvest three to four months after planting. Some varieties mature earlier than others. Make a date in your diary, about three months after the date you plant seed potatoes, and there should be some super, sweet new potatoes ready and waiting for harvest.
Don't be tempted to cheat and plant any of those rogue left-over potatoes that may have sprouted in the pantry. It's unlikely these will produce a bumper crop, so why go to all the effort if poor results are all you may get.