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How to grow your spuds

Early, second early, maincrop  - what‘s all that about then?

There are dozens of different potato varieties, usually described as early, second early and maincrop potatoes. These names indicate when they crop, and how closely and when they can be planted. Concentrate on earlies if you’re short of space, and remember earlies are less likely to have pest problems as they’re lifted earlier in the year. Maincrops take the most space in the garden, but they tend to be the best varieties for storage.


Chitting means encouraging seed potatoes to sprout before planting. Start from late January or early February, about six weeks before planting. Each potato has a more rounded, blunt end that has a number of ‘eyes’. Stand the tubers with the blunt end uppermost in trays or old egg boxes, somewhere cool with plenty of natural light. Potatoes are ready to plant when shoots are 1.5-2.5cm (0.5-1in) long. Leaving two or three chits will tend to give you fewer, larger spuds. Leaving them all will tend to give you a greater number of smaller ones.


Plant when the soil has warmed up, usually from mid-March or early April. The earlier you plant the more likely you are to have to cover the leaves overnight to protect from frost. See table for planting distances. Handle chitted tubers carefully, so as not to break the shoots. Cover the potatoes lightly with soil. As soon as shoots appear, earth up plants by covering with a ridge of soil so the shoots are just buried and the leaves poking out. Keep earthing up throughout the season.


Potatoes will be ready for lifting from June until September, depending on varieties and growing conditions. Earlies can be lifted as soon as they’re ready, when above-ground growth is still green, and usually as soon as the flowers open. Second and maincrops can be left until September. Two weeks before you lift, cut the tops off at ground level. This gives the skins time to toughen up, making them less prone to damage from lifting and better for storing.

Potato type   Planting time Planting
distance in row 
between rows 
harvest time 
 First early  Late March  30cm (12”) apart  60cm (24”) apart  10 weeks from planting
 Second early  Early to mid April  37cm (15”) apart  75cm (30”) apart  13 weeks from planting
 Early maincrop  Mid to late April  45cm (18”) apart  75cm (30”) apart  15 weeks from planting
 Maincrop  Mid to late April  45cm (18”) apart  75cm (30”) apart  20 weeks from planting