BOTANICAL NAME: Solanum tuberosum
COMMON NAMES: Spuds, Taters
FAMILY: Solanaceae, the tomato family
ORIGIN: Potatoes were introduced to Europe from the Americas by the Spanish in the second half of the 16th century.
A perennial plant growing to around 1m in height and producing edible tubers underground. The plants are considered herbaceous perennials which grow about 60cm depending on variety, with the leaves dying back after flowering, fruiting and tuber formation.
Potato tubers are a staple, with many heritage varieties having a delicious flavour whether used as an 'old' potato and baked or used as a 'new' potato and steamed or mashed.
Tubers are rarely eaten raw because raw potato starch is poorly digested by humans.
Tubers may also be used to brew alcoholic beverages such as vodka, poitín, or akvavit and may be used by farmers as fodder for livestock.
Potatoes like a fertile, deeply dug, moist, acidic soil with a pH of less than 6. They do not grow well in heavy clay or a limed soil, which promotes potato scab. To avoid this, always rotate your potato patch each year. Certified potato tubers can be grown in many months of the year, depending on whether the garden receives frost, as potatoes are frost-tender. Potatoes need 60 o 90 days frost-free to be successfully harvested; potatoes harvested early as 'new' potatoes do not store well. In northern NSW and QLD one of the best planting times is March-April, as the soil is warm, growth is rapid and there are generally less pests. For cooler, frosty areas potatoes can be planted in early spring, a couple of weeks before the last expected frost.
Potato varieties can be either determinate (short plants) or indeterminate (tall plants), just as tomato plants are. The main difference between the 2 types is that you will need to mound the soil around the stems of the taller varieties.
Determinate Varieties: (best for cooler areas with short growing seasons - no need to mound soil around plants - early harvest)
eg. Kennebec, Kipfler, Purple Congo, Pink Eye, Carlingford, Spunta
Indeterminate Varieties: (require mounding of soil around stem - late harvest)
eg. Desiree, Dutch Cream, King Edward, Nicola, Pink Fir Apple, Bintje, Red Norland, Russet Burbank, Pontiac, Sebago, Brownell, Sapphire, Up-To-Date
When planting determinate varieties, dig the soil, adding compost and planting the tubers 10 cm deep, about 35 to 40 cm apart. The 'no-dig' method works particularly well with determinate types which involves placing the tubers on the surface of the soil and mulching heavily with straw and composted manure. The potatoes will form tubers on top of the ground rather than up through the mulch where they risk being exposed to light. The mulch needs to be kept thick to avoid damage by sunlight.
Indeterminate varieties soil preparation involves digging a shallow trench 20 cm wide and 20 cm deep, placing the seed potatoes 35 to 40 cm apart and covering them with 10 cm of soil. As the potato plants grow continue filling in the trench with soil until the potatoes are buried to a depth of approx. 30 cm. Mulch well. Tubers will develop along the full length of the stem wherever it makes contact with the soil.
If you are planting multiple rows space them 50 cm apart.
Potatoes are ready for harvesting when most of the tops have withered; this can be from 12 to 20 weeks after planting, depending on the variety. Early potatoes may be dug for table use at any time but for storage the potatoes should be fully mature. After they are dug, dry as quickly as possible, and then store immediately in a cool, dark, dry place preferable in a hessian sack.
LIKES: Corn, Chives, Thyme, Marigold, Nasturtium, Coriander, Cabbage, Leek
DISLIKES: Asparagus, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Carrot, Cucumber, Kohl Rabi, Melons, Parsnip, Swede, Squash, Sunflower, Turnip