I’ve spent the last year trying to achieve self sufficiency in potatoes. I like the idea of self sufficiency in anything for two reasons: to borrow a phrase from Diary of a Tomato: it always feels good to “disengage from the military industrial complex” by not having to rely on it for a food stuff. I also feel like I’m emulating my parents in some sort of time warp to the late 70’s/early 80s when my mother was busy spinning her own wool. Anyway, I don’t have enough space to grow heaps of potatoes to store for long periods so for me self sufficiency in spuds means growing and harvesting them year round. But can you grow potatoes in Melbourne year round? The answer seems to be a little bit yes and a big bit no.
The plants grow reasonably happily all year round (we are frost free) but although they’re growing they aren’t always setting many tubers, which kind of defeats the purpose.
Now my experiments in potato growing have been far from scientific. I have chopped and changed varieties depending on when a given variety was shooting. I have used a variety of growing techniques; some potatoes I grew in pots, others in the ground. Regardless though I do have some observations which I think I will test further and that I thought I might be worth mentioning to see if others experiences were similar.
Things I have learnt:
- Potatoes seem to like quite a lot of both food and water – I got the best yields from plants that I gave a reasonable amount of both to.
- Potatoes don’t seem to like set tubers in Melbourne’s Summer or Autumn. Both my late Summer & Autumn harvests were disappointing with yields at about 10-20% of the weight of the Spring grown ones.
- Potatoes grow reasonably well in Melbourne’s winter. Although yields were still considerably less compared with Spring grown ones (about 50%) they were much better than those grown over Summer and Autumn.
- The best time to plant potatoes in Melbourne seems to be July – September, harvesting in November/December/January.
- Kipfler was the only variety that produced shoots regardless of the season. All the others I tried seem to be waiting for the right temperatures (ie our winter) to send up shoots.
This link details Melbourne’s climate throughout the year.
Although Melbourne’s Jan & Feb (ie summer) average temperatures are only around 26C maximum, we do gets blocks of days with temperatures in the high 30 (around 100F)s followed by blocks in the low 20s.
I would be interested to know if people think temperature or day length has the bigger impact on the potato plants, and indeed what time of year, and what climatic conditions you find potatoes grow best in.
Perhaps armed with more information I can become self sufficient in spuds and thus tick one more edible off the don’t ever need to buy list.