SPUDS THE EASY WAY
Winter is the perfect time to plant seed potatoes in Perth. A home grown spud, freshly dug from the garden laden with butter and onion chives is arguably, one of life’s most simple and exquisite pleasures. Ensure you use seed potatoes to avoid viruses.
Potatoes like fertile soil, so be generous with soil preparation. You will need worm casts or compost and clay amendments such as Soil Solver, Sand Remedy or bentonite. Spuds also love water, which is why in Perth, it's recommended to plant from July to October, when the heat is gone and the rain is around.
If you want to save water, consider growing your potatoes in a trench rather than a pot as they tend to dry out a lot less.
Dig a trench about 40cm wide and 20cm deep. If you want to contain your spuds, line the trench with sleepers so in effect you have a large rectangular ‘pot’ in the ground, open to the ground. After digging your trench, apply the clay amendment to the existing soil, mix in some organic fertiliser and add a 10cm layer of homemade compost or soil conditioner. Mix everything together well then rake aside to form mounded edges.
Place seed potatoes 20 - 30cm apart in the trench, shoot-side up. Cover the potatoes with some of the mounded soil from edge, then with 5cm of mulch made from a mix of leaves/compost/grass clippings/old manure/recycled prunings/straw – whatever you have handy but preferably at least 3 of these items. Hint – for convenience, place mulch mix in a compost bin or rubbish bin nearby.
As potato shoots start to appear, cover them with a combination of soil from either side of the trench and mulch. Water in well. 'Hill up the crop' this way a few times in the first four or five weeks of growth. This gives the potatoes a nice bed of organic matter in which to grow. If you let your spuds dry out, they will be small and be scabby. Keep an eye on the moisture even in winter.
After 5 weeks or so of covering the tips up, let them grow without covering, being mindful to keep adding more mulch to ensure the tubers are covered and not exposed to light which makes them green and poisonous to eat.
When the leaves start going yellow, it’s time to reduce watering and start ‘bandicooting’. This is when you ‘steal’ tubers while they are still growing. Gently tunnel beneath the soil or mulch to find potatoes and eat within a day or two. The main harvest is done when leaves die and stems wither. If you leave for a couple of weeks, the potatoes will harden and be ready to harvest. The longer potatoes grow, the bigger the tubers will be. They usually take between 2-5 months depending on the variety.
Spread potatoes on the ground after harvesting and allow to dry outside for a few days (if it’s not raining). Store in a cool dark airy place. Potatoes usually keep for a few months, once again, depending on the variety.
Use a container at least 40 - 50 cm deep with plenty of holes in the bottom for drainage. Half wine barrels work well. Avoid using the upright chicken wire + stakes container method as they tend to dry out too much in our hot climate, even in early spring.
Place 10 - 20cm of 40% compost + 60% potting mix in the bottom of the container and put your seed potatoes on top, about 20cm apart. Cover with about 20cm of compost mixed with mulch. Sprinkle chicken manure pellets or 90% blood and bone + 10% sulphate of potash over the top. Water well. As the potato shoots start to grow through, cover up with more compost/mulch mix and keep well watered. Keep on covering up for about four weeks (but stop if you reach the top of the container) and then follow directions as per trench method. ENJOY!