The initial preparation for planting involves choosing the right site for the right variety to get the optimum yield and quality. Our objective is to use or rent virgin land. Soil is tested for nutrients and moisture content which determines its suitability for growing and which varieties to grow. The UK’s climate makes it particularly suited to growing potatoes. There is often no need to irrigate the potatoes whilst they are growing providing there is sufficient rainfall during the season. Potatoes will usually be grown in the same field for only one out of every six years, or even longer, its rotated with Grass, cereals and other crops are grown during the other years to replenish the nutrients and improve soil health. We plan our potato crops many years in advance.
The first stage in the cultivation process is ploughing the ground and turning the soil. Later in the spring, the process is repeated and the land cultivated once more. A stone separator is often used to remove stones from the soil where the potatoes are growing, as modern automatic harvesters cannot differentiate between stones and potatoes! Fertiliser is spread before planting.
Prior to planting in each field our agronomist studies what each crop is required for and what size banding is required. This along with soil type, amount of stone and nutrient value of the soil allows him to produce a prescription of the direction of planting and spacing’s between each mother tuber. Seed potatoes are planted about 15-17cm deep in rows and then covered with soil. The distance between the seed potatoes will depend on the variety of potato as the size of plants differs.
Planting and harvest times differ throughout the UK due to the difference in climate although traditionally planting takes place in Spring. The crop is protected against insects and disease as it grows with the applications of specialised products. The potatoes grow for around 5 months before they are ready for harvesting.
The potatoes are harvested between July to late October and only harvested when absolutely ready. It takes an expert eye to know when the time is right, waiting for the leaves of the plant to change colour, carrying out a dig test and sampling the quality of the potatoes to ensure they meet our standards. The speed of harvest during a relatively short window of time with the acreage to cover is crucial to maintain the skin quality of the product.
When the potatoes are finally harvested they are lifted by the harvester and then graded by hand and sampled to make sure the quality and sugar levels are right. Small and damaged potatoes are removed along with any loose soil.
The potatoes are stored in our stores to keep them in the best condition to ensure they’re available all year round, we constantly monitor them to ensure regulated temperatures, airflow, air quality, moisture and sugar levels are at their optimum. If we don’t get it right we risk losing the whole crop. Wet skins and muddy potatoes prevent the air circulating evenly and can suffocate the potato, so ideally we want dry conditions when harvesting.
Despite appearing durable the potatoes still need to be handled with great care so as not to damage the skins or cause bruises. Any damage will prevent the potatoes storing well and will reduce the overall quality. So, first we carefully split the potatoes by size in the field and box store them into specially made wooden potato boxes and then stacked on top of each other in a storage area. This system is more flexible, making it easy to store different varieties in the same area, and remove any crop if required. Mint Oil is used as a natural suppressant against sprouting.
When we store potatoes what we’re doing is effectively putting them into hibernation to halt the growing process. To do that we make sure it is pitch black in the store and then we don’t move them again until we are ready to use them. Potatoes naturally want to keep growing. We daren’t wake them up! You have to be very careful, any movement or knocks could spark them back into life. Throughout the Winter we spend a lot of time going in and out of the stores, sampling the potatoes and monitoring temperature levels.
Potatoes are reproduced vegetatively from other potatoes. Traditionally, a part of each year’s crop is set aside for reuse in next year’s planting season most farmers usually buy disease free ‘certified seed’ from dedicated seed potato suppliers such as ourselves.