Potatoes are very versatile with varieties ideal for boiling, baking, frying and salads.
First Early, Second Early and Maincrop Potatoes
These terms often sound mysterious but they're not really. All the terms refer to is the time it takes from planting to getting a crop. First earlies are usually ready in around ten weeks, second earlies in around 13 weeks and maincrop after about 20 weeks.
Maincrop types tend to store better but they are at more risk of getting blight than the faster types, which are usually harvested before the blight periods begin.
Your first and second early potatoes should be planted about 300mm apart in rows about 600mm apart. The maincrop, being the heaviest cropper, need a bit more space so plant them about 400mm apart in rows 750mm apart.
When to Plant
First and Second Earlies can be planted (South of the UK) around mid-March. The actual time will depend on weather conditions.
Main Crop potatoes can be planted (South of the UK)during the first half of April.
When to Harvest
Second earlies take 16 to 17 weeks to mature after planting, so you should be able to harvest them from very late June through to the start of August.
Maincrops are ready 18 to 20 weeks after planting, so they can be lifted usually from July through to October. Maincrops take up the most space in the garden, but they tend to be the best varieties to grow if you want some for storage.
When to Plant Autumn Potatoes
Timing is pretty critical to success with autumn potatoes. The ideal time for planting is late August and plantings after the first week of September are unlikely to provide that magic Christmas crop. So you need to obtain your seed potatoes in good time. Ideally you want to have them by early August and start chitting with a view to planting at the end of the month although you don't actually need any chitting time if they arrive late.
Suitable Second Crop Potato Varieties
Most early and second early varieties are suitable potato varieties for late growing, but the easiest and most popular variety is Carlingford. Charlotte, which is a waxy salad potato is another good one to grow. You can eat them as new potatoes with Christmas lunch and turn the leftovers into a potato salad to accompany a cold buffet. Maris Peer, not to be confused with Maris Piper, are another popular Christmas potato.
The autumn planting seed potatoes are not specially bred variants of the ordinary types. They are exactly the same tubers but the merchants have carefully stored the seed potatoes in climate-controlled, optimum conditions, which is a service you pay for. However, you can store your own spring seed tubers for autumn planting.
Just chit as usual and leave in the chitting tray through the summer. Remember they need light, but not direct, strong sunlight and to be kept cool. Keeping them cool is the difficult part. I find a monthly spray with a seaweed solution helps develop strong shoots but it's not strictly necessary. Our north-facing garage is the coldest place and only has dim light through the windows in the door. The shed would be ideal except it can get quite hot in summer which would over-stimulate and dry out the tubers.