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Post by AlleyRose on Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:50 am

Originally from South America, potatoes were adopted so enthusiastically in Europe that they became the staple food of many European peasant populations. And, up to fifty years ago, potatoes made up a substantial proportion of the Australian diet. Their dominance only began to fade after World War Two.
Potatoes were first brought to Australia in 1788 on the First Fleet. By the early 1800s they were being grown in abundance in the young colony.
In 1830 the first shipment of Tasmanian potatoes arrived in New South Wales. The island state quickly established itself as the premier supplier of superior spuds.
Potatoes used to be grown in just about every Australian backyard but their popularity in the garden has waned, just as it has in the kitchen. This is a shame because potatoes are easy to grow and fun to try. And, if you’re establishing a new garden, it’s worth reviving the old custom of planting potatoes to break up the soil.
Potatoes have been eaten by humans for at least eight millennia and, in the 21st century, they’re considered to be such an important food that the United Nations declared 2008 The Year of the Potato. The potato is a healthy and rich food source that produces more nutrition in a wider range of conditions than any other major crop. And, unlike cereals and grains, potatoes can be grown in the tiniest of backyards.
Growing Potatoes
So, here’s how you get started with spuds:

  • Seed potatoes are available at this time of year. These are the best to use as they are guaranteed to be virus free. In cold climates potatoes can be planted a few weeks before the last frost is expected. Another January planting is possible in most areas, but it can be harder to buy seed potatoes at that time.

  • Put the seed potatoes into a well lit (out of sunlight) spot for a few weeks to shoot. Make sure they’re kept reasonably dry and away from frost.

  • While you’re waiting for the sprouts (new shoots) to reach a few centimetres in length, spend time preparing the garden bed. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil (create a raised bed if soil is heavy) and dig in compost or old manure. Don’t add lime – potatoes prefer an acid soil.

  • Add in some Yates Professional Blood & Bone or Dynamic Lifter pellets.

  • If you’re short of space you can grow potatoes in a large pot or even an old bucket. Punch a few holes in the bottom of the bucket and half fill with compost-enriched Yates premium potting mix. Put a seed potato (more than one if the bucket is big) on top, then gradually fill with more mix as the stems grow.

  • Plant sprouted tubers with care so you don’t damage the young shoots.

  • Mulch thickly around potato plants to retain moisture and protect the tubers from light. Potatoes exposed to light turn green and develop a toxic substance.

  • Feed every two weeks with Thrive All Purpose and give the plants another dressing of Dynamic Lifter pellets in early summer.

  • Potatoes usually take three to four months to mature but you can ‘bandicoot’ small chats before then by hand digging beneath the plant and carefully extracting any of usable size. If you want to store mature potatoes, it’s best to wait until the plants have flowered and died down before harvesting.

Problems to watch out for

  • Snails and slugs can attack the young shoots. Use Blizem or Baysol pellets for protection.

  • Aphids are worth controlling because they can spread disease. Apply Yates Tomato & Vegetable Dust or Nature’s Way Natrasoap.

  • Fungal diseases can affect potatoes. The worst is the blight that caused the total failure of the potato crop in 19th century Ireland and the subsequent starvation or exodus of more than a million people. It begins with leaf spots and spreads to the stems and tubers. The disease is favoured by humid weather with cool nights and warm days. Regular dusting with Yates Tomato & Vegetable Dust will help protect from this and many other diseases, as well as a range of pests.

Don’t have room for a potato bed? Try growing your spuds in a large pot or a four-high stack of old tyres.

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