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Growing Potatoes

Growing potatoes in Northland can be all year round activity as long as you are in a frost free area. But what you need to be aware of is the selection it is somewhat reduced after summer. Most of the seed potatoes are grown in the South Island and due to their climate the full range of stock will not be in store until June, tapering off by late spring, leaving a few varieties that carry through the year.

Potatoes need sun and shelter from the wind with free draining soil. Potatoes are heavy feeders so add plenty of compost, peat or well-rotted organic material to the soil a few weeks before planting. A general or potato fertiliser can be applied to your furrow just prior to planting, mixing through the soil.

Some people swear by sprouting the seed potatoes first, others don’t bother; sprouting can take around 1-2 months, so buy them as soon as you see them in the shops. To sprout the seed potatoes, place each potato in a shallow box, seedling tray or empty egg carton. Place them with one eye facing up wards and leave them somewhere dry, airy and well lit until they sprout. They are ready to plant when the sprouts are about 10cm long.

Plant your sprouted or not sprouted potatoes about 15cm deep with the sprouts facing up and at least 25cm apart. With sprouted potatoes be careful not to damage the sprouts as you plant. It can be about two to three weeks for them to show through the soil so they usually avoid any late frosts, if you are prone to frost then provide protection.

Planting can be done in two ways

  1. Planting as you would any other plant, then mounding as they grow, this is useful if you think your soil is a little wet

  2. Prepared drills, this is when you dig a deeper hole or furrow, planting a few cm below the level of the soil, then the plant grows and the mounding begins.

As the potatoes grow you must mound up the soil around them regularly, this will provide protection for the tubers from insects and the wind. Mounding will also keep the developing tubers close to the mother plant making harvesting easier.

Apply potatoes fertilizer or blood and bone every 2-3 weeks they really do need lots of food, apply to the side of the crop and water well in avoiding the foliage.

Harvest and Storage

When to harvest will depend on the type you have planted

  • Early Varieties are ready to harvest when the flowers are fully open and the lower leaves are starting to yellow.

  • Main crops are left until the foliage has completely died off.

Harvesting does not need to be all at once and you can harvest as you need, but as a rule of thumb early varieties aren’t left to long in the ground after they have reached maturity but main crops can be left to mature a little. If you are stuck then just remember if the foliage is still green and growing then the tubers are still developing. Another way to check the skin for the maturity is to dig down and remove a few tubers. Rub your thumb over the skin of the potato, it should not rub off easily, if it does use these ones first as they are not good for storing.

To harvest dig deep under the crop, this will reduce damaging the tubers a garden fork is good for this. If you are harvesting the crop all at once then dig them up in the morning preferably on a sunny day then you can leave them on top of the soil for a few hours to dry in the sun.

Don’t leave them out overnight as they will become damp, use any damaged potatoes straight away.

Clean off the excess soil and store them in a sack or paper bag in a cool, dark, well ventilated place.

Redwoods Tips

  • Practice crop rotation, don’t plant them in the same place every year and avoid planting potatoes where tomatoes have been grown before.

  • Stuck for choice then chose the variety you usually buy in the supermarket.

  • Early gardeners used potatoes to help other plants to grow. Make a small hole in the potato and tuck in a cutting of a shrub that you want to grow in to the hole. Plant the potato and cover it completely, leaving the cutting above the surface. The potato acts as a cradle supporting the new plant by keeping it moist and fed.

Growing Potatoes in Tires You will need:

  • If space is a problem then grow your potatoes up not out!

  • 4 tyre, to make them lighter and easy to stack, cut off the sidewalls leaving only the tread.Potting soil.

  • Sprouted seed potatoes.

Place a tire on the ground and fill it with potting soil, plant at least 3 a sprouted (or not) seed potatoes, spacing them evenly. Fill the tyre with soil leaving at least two set of leaves showing through the soil on your sprouted potato. If using them un-sprouted, bury the potato as normal and wait until the sprouts show through. The potato will grow through the soil when it does build up your stack by placing another tyre on top as fill as before. They are ready to harvest the same as if they would be if they are grown in the ground, just lift off the tires to get to the crop.


  • Potting soil will shrink when it is first watered so you may need to top it up.

  • The tyres need to be in full sun but they will hold a lot of heat so watering needs to be checked daily.

They still need fertiliser, so apply blood and bone to the soil when you plant and again as you stack another tire on.


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