Really, the hard work for planting and growing potatoes is done in November or December when the soil in your chosen bed needs to be dug, all weeds removed and plenty of well rotted organic matter worked into the soil. This allows the soil to settle and, also, allows the frost to get at heavy clay soil and help break it up. You should choose an open sunny position, avoiding beds where potatoes have been grown in the previous two years. Then, in March, as soon as the weather allows it (and for those of us down the ‘wet’ end of the allotments – as soon as the soil is dry enough), the second stage of preparation begins. Fork the soil, turning it over and removing any residual weed roots and returning weeds from the bed.
Get your seed potatoes a few weeks in advance of planting as it is beneficial, particularly for early potatoes, to ‘chit’ them before planting. ‘Chitting’ means allowing the shoots to form on the seed potato, and allowing these ‘chits’ to develop before planting will encourage strong growth once they are in the ground.
To ‘chit’ your potatoes, the easiest way is to use empty egg trays or cartons. Set the potatoes out on the trays. If early shoots are already forming, you will notice they are normally strongest at one end of the potato (referred to as the ‘rose’ end). This end should be uppermost when placing in the trays. Place the trays in a reasonably warm, light location to start the sprouting process. About 8 to 10 degrees C should be fine but ensure you protect the seed potatoes from frost. Once 2 or 3 strong shoots or ‘chits’ have formed, they are ready for planting.
In the case of Wilberfoss allotments, if your plot has good drainage, then you should be able to get your ‘first early’ potatoes in the ground toward the end of March. But if the soil is still waterlogged then you may have to delay planting until April.