I’ve just received my vegetable seed order through the post. I’m having to practice being very patient resisting the urge to plant the seeds out too early. The golden rule for outdoor planting is – Not too early, not too deeply and not too thickly. Seeds will only germinate when the temperatures are high enough to allow growth to begin. Sowing in wet and near freezing soil is asking for trouble. After saying that I’m making a start planting some garlic in a dry spot in the vegetable patch. I’ll try hard to hold off until March until I plant most of my other seed. For the real enthusiast who wants to get an early start, cloches can be put out to both warm the soil and dry it out ready for sowing seed such as cabbage, early summer cauliflower, early carrots, lettuce, peas and broad beans. .
Potatoes can be grown in almost any soil; it is the best crop to grow in grassland or wasteland, which is to be turned into a vegetable plot. Earthing the potatoes up and their dense leaf canopy, which stops weeds growing, helps to clear the ground. In established vegetable plots don’t grow potatoes on areas where they have been planted within the last two years, as there could be a build up of pests such as eelworm that will cause yellowing leaves and tiny tubers.
Early potatoes are simply maincrop potatoes dug up when they are the size of duck eggs.
When you get your seed potatoes, put them in trays or egg boxes, resting them on some dry peat compost. Have the rose end upwards; this will be the end with the greatest number of eyes. Place in a frost-free room, out of direct sunlight so that sprouting can take place. This process is known as chitting. When the sturdy shoots are 2 to 3cm long they are ready for planting out. Don’t plant out soft or diseased seed.
Choose a sunny spot. If the soil wasn’t manured in autumn, then add some peat or compost to have the soil ready for planting in the next few weeks. If planting in grassland wireworm may be a problem, these are 1-2cm long, shiny, yellow grubs that attack the roots. You can use a chemical (Pirimiphos- methyl) to control these or an organic method perferably. Cut an old potato in half, cut out the eyes (to stop them sprouting) fix these on sticks and bury 10cm into the ground. Put one every square metre. The wireworms will be attracted to these. Check them every day and destroy any you find in soapy water. Do this before the seed potatoes are planted.
Potatoes dislike cold and wet conditions so unless you plant the spuds under black polythene, wait until the sun has warmed the soil and the danger of frost recedes.