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  • Writer's pictureJulie Smith

Picking the right spuds for your garden

You might think all potatoes are equal, but if you are growing some spuds, you’ll soon find out it’s a little more complicated than that. Potatoes are classified by the length of time they take to reach maturity (first early, second early and main crop) and by their culinary use (weather the potato is waxy, starchy or in between).

All potatoes can be planted roughly at the same time (around March- April) - after chitting but they will take different time to mature. The main three types of potatoes are:

First early potatoes:

Harvest 10 weeks from planting date

Good for bags and container growing

Can be planted from late February to May

Second early

Harvest 13 weeks from planting date

Good for bags and container growing

Can be planted from March to May

Main crop potatoes

Harvest 20 weeks from planting date

Better planted directly in the ground as they produce bigger tubers

Can be planted from March to May

You might hear about Christmas potatoes, which are potatoes planted early August to harvest in the autumn and eat over Christmas. These need to be protected from the frost, and first and second early types are best to grow as Christmas potatoes. If you’d like to try this, use cold-stored potato tubers, available from specialist seed merchants in July and August. These are seed potatoes from late winter that have been held back ready for summer planting. Replanting potatoes you’ve grown in the summer don’t work as potatoes need a long dormancy before they are ready to grow and produce more tubers. As these potatoes will go straight in warm soil, they won’t need to be chitted.

A new potato has thin, wispy skin and a crisp, waxy texture. New potatoes are young potatoes and unlike their fully grown counterparts, they keep their shape once cooked and cut. They are also sweeter because their sugar has not yet converted into starch, and are therefore particularly suited to salads. The definition of new potato was reviewed in 2013, to focus on the fact that new potatoes are potatoes that are being sold shortly after they have been dug out, as opposed to potatoes stored from months before ending on the shop’s shelves.

The starch content of potatoes will dictate what they are best used for.

Starchy potatoes like the Russet, are (obviously) high in starch and low in moisture. They’re fluffy, making them great for boiling, baking and frying, but they don’t hold their shape well, so they should be avoided in dishes like casseroles, gratins and potato salads.

Waxy potatoes like Ratte or New Potatoes have a low starch content and are often characterized by a creamy, firm and moist flesh that holds its shape well after cooking. They’re typically great for roasting, boiling, casseroles and potato salads.

All-Purpose potatoes have a medium starch content that fall somewhere in between the starchy and waxy potatoes. They’re a true multi-purpose potato, and therefore can be used for just about any cooking application. A classic example are the Duke of York potatoes.

Here are my top 5 potatoes for smaller gardens and unusual, delicious crops:

Pentland Javelin are a good traditional first early potato, a reliable cropper even in bags and container, with a firm texture. And as a general purpose potato, you can do with it as you wish!

Ratte potatoes bring me back to Sunday lunches in France growing up. It’s a classic French second early potato with long knobbly tubers. Rattes have a gorgeously nutty flavour- a bit like chestnut- and a delicious waxy flesh.

Salad blue is a 1900 variety that isn’t actually blue but more deep purple. I love making purple chips and crisps with this starchy variety. Digging these potato out is like hunting for rare gems. Main crop variety.

Pink Fir Apple is an old French variety dating from the 1850. It produces long, narrow and knobbly tubers with a pink and white flesh. These waxy spuds are best roasted whole with their skin on. Maincrop variety.

Red Duke of York these gorgeous potatoes have a deep red skin with pale yellow flesh. Leave the skin on and it does not fade during cooking. They produces crispy skins when baked or roasted. Very tasty. First early variety.

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