It may seem strange to start talking about Christmas in July. But summer in the Northern Hemisphere is when gardeners need to start thinking about the colder months to come. And this is also the time to plant some potatoes in pots so that you can enjoy some new potatoes over the festive season.
In order to grow potatoes to harvest at Christmas time, you will likely need an undercover growing area in most temperate climates. If you have a greenhouse or polytunnel, you should be able to grow new potatoes in containers as long as you ensure that these remain frost-free until you harvest them in December.
Container growing is generally best unless your area is frost-free in winter. Since containers can easily be placed and moved undercover when the first frosts arrive.
When deciding how large containers should be, a rough rule is that you will need 10 liters 9roughly 2.5 gallons) of space for each potato tuber you plant. So in a 50-liter (10-gallon) container, you can plant five seed potatoes.
To fill your containers, any peat-free potting mix will be fine.
I use a homemade mix of:
1/3 loamy soil
1/3 homemade compost
1/3 leaf mold
Which Potatoes to Grow
Any first early or second early potatoes (first and second earlies refer to potatoes that are harvested early in the season) are ideal for growing to eat as new potatoes.
When to Plant Potatoes for a Holiday Harvest
New potatoes—first earlies or second earlies—are usually planted in spring and harvested in June or July. But as long as you can keep them frost-free, you can plant potatoes in summer for a harvest around the festive period in mid-winter.
When precisely you should plant your potatoes will depend on where you live and the date of your first frost.
How to Plant Potato Tubers
To plant your potatoes, first, fill the container to a depth of around 15 centimeters (6 inches) with the growing medium. I also like to add a layer of comfrey leaves onto which I set the potato tubers, with their shoots/eyes upwards. Cover the tubers with another 15 centimeters or so of your growing medium.
Plenty of space should still be in the container so that you can “earth up” your potatoes as the plants grow.
Caring for Christmas Potatoes
Potatoes are generally easy to grow, but you will want to follow these guidelines to ensure success.
As the plants grow, they should be earthed up a couple of times, just as you would when growing potatoes in the ground. To do this, simply mound up the soil around the stem.
Water consistently, especially during dry spells, remembering that plants in pots need more frequent watering than those growing in the ground.
To give plants a boost, you can also consider feeding with an organic liquid plant feed 2-3 times over late summer and early autumn. I like to use compost tea or a seaweed liquid feed for the purpose.
In the late autumn, remove dead foliage after the plants die back. But leave tubers in the container until you want to harvest them. Just look out for rodents, squirrels, or other pests that might try to get to your tubers before you do.
When you wish to harvest, you can simply reach into the container to retrieve individual new potatoes a few at a time. Or you can tip out the whole of the container to retrieve all the tubers from within.
While you may also have stored maincrop potatoes ready for your Christmas dinner, there is something special about having fresh, new potatoes ready for the festivities.