Peter Adams, Head Gardener at RHS Garden Rosemoor, shares his insight into how they grow these little gems in their gorgeous gardens…
“Lifting new potatoes is one of the many pleasures of growing your own food, the rich earthy fragrance as you raise them from the ground, followed by their wonderful unrivalled flavour in the kitchen, fresh from where they were grown.
The gardener often refers to new potatoes as ‘first earlies’, they are the first potatoes to be planted around late March and they will be the first potatoes to be lifted later in the season. Potatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow and at harvest, the feeling of sinking the garden fork into the soil and bringing those fresh home-grown potatoes to the surface is one of the most rewarding.
Preparing the ground
Growing is easy, although a little preparation a couple of months in advance is needed, it’s best to buy seed potatoes from a garden centre where they will be certified as disease-free, rather than choosing to grow what is sprouting at the back of the kitchen cupboard, bought from the supermarket a few weeks ago and forgotten about.
You can lay them out in trays, although old egg boxes are even better, somewhere light and cool but frost-free to begin a process of ‘chitting’. This is where you promote short yet strong stumpy shoots to grow to give them a head start when they’re planted out into the garden. Your potatoes will appreciate a fertile, rich soil, so adding organic matter such as manure or garden compost to the plot in advance is beneficial.
In late March, mark out your plot and lay you potatoes out in rows, allowing 12 inches between each potato and around 30 inches between the rows, planting your potatoes about 6 inches deep. Soon you will see strong shoots beginning to emerge, and it’s important to protect them from the frost by earthing up – a process by which you draw soil up to cover the emerging shoots. Continue this process of earthing up for as long as there is a risk of frost and you still have enough soil between the rows to draw up. Don’t worry about continually covering the leaves, the potatoes will have enough energy stored to keep growing.
By the time we are into May it usually safe to allow the potatoes to grow away happily, keeping them well watered in dryer conditions, of course if you don’t have a lot of room, potatoes can be grown in pots and containers, following a similar process.
Time to harvest
Now for the fun bit, the harvesting, there are many thoughts on when you should harvest your potatoes, but for first earlies it is generally late June into July, usually about 100 days from planting, when the first flowers begin to open. Pull back a little soil to expose a few potatoes, if they are around the size of a hen’s egg, they are good to go. Carefully push a garden fork down the side of the rows and ease it up under the crop to encourage the potatoes to the surface. Carefully pick them up and place them in an awaiting container to take straight to the kitchen to be enjoyed.
The skins of new potatoes are soft, especially when brought straight from the garden, so a good wash in clean water is all that is needed before cooking, no need to peel them.
See more at https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/rosemoor