Potatoes are an iconic staple of Australian cuisine, a versatile veggie that may be mashed, roasted, fried, or boiled. Growing potatoes is a popular choice for backyard gardening in Australia since they’re very easy to cultivate, produce a satisfactory crop, and, let’s face it, nothing surpasses the flavour of freshly dug potatoes!
Without further babbling, let’s jump into it!
Understanding Melbourne’s climate
Melbourne’s climate is perfectly suited to potato cultivation. Melbourne’s diverse seasons and well-draining soil make it a perfect setting for potatoes to thrive. The secret to effective potato planting in Melbourne is to plant during the cooler seasons to ensure a robust and healthy harvest.
If you want more information on how climate can impact your garden, check out our veggie planting guide for Melbourne.
Best time to plant potatoes in Melbourne
The ideal time to grow potatoes in Melbourne is often from late August to early September.
Planting at this window helps the potatoes benefit from the warmer spring soil after the cold winter, accelerating their growth. Furthermore, it allows the plants to mature before the summer heat.
There are several reasons why this timing is ideal. Potatoes are cool-weather crops that thrive in mild temperatures. Planting potatoes in late winter or early spring allows them to benefit from the colder weather of spring and early summer. This allows the potatoes to grow without being stressed by high temperatures, resulting in stronger plants and a more abundant yield.
Keep an eye on local weather conditions, as they can change yearly. If the winter was exceptionally harsh, or if the soil was still icy in late August, it may be advisable to wait a few weeks before planting.
How to prepare for planting potatoes in Melbourne
Begin by selecting a suitable area in your garden for planting potatoes in Melbourne. Potatoes grow well in a well-drained, sunny location. Avoid places where potatoes have been planted in the last two years to avoid disease.
We’ll review a few additional things you should consider when growing potatoes in Melbourne below!
1. Choosing the right variety
There are numerous potato varieties that are ideal for Melbourne’s climate. Here’s a quick list of some of our personal favourites:
- King Edward: This cultivar is well-known for its tremendous yield and delicious flavour. Its usual growth period is 90-100 days, making it ideal for Melbourne’s spring and summer.
- Desiree: This variety of potatoes is known to be tough and adaptable. They take a little longer to develop (about 110-120 days), but the reward is a plentiful yield and excellent, creamy potatoes.
- Pontiac: This red-skinned, white-fleshed potato is perfect for the temperate environment of Melbourne. It matures in approximately 110 days and is resistant to most prevalent diseases. Because of their smooth texture, Pontiac potatoes are ideal for boiling and preparing mash.
- Kipfler: Kipfler potatoes are a waxy cultivar recognised for their characteristic elongated shape and nutty flavour. They mature in about 120-135 days, making them suitable for harvesting in late summer to early autumn. They’re great in salads or boiled with butter and herbs.
With these types, you’ll enjoy a lovely selection of flavours and textures from your homegrown potatoes!
2. Preparing the soil
Potatoes prefer loose, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. Begin by turning over your soil and removing any pebbles or debris that could impede the growth of your potatoes.
Then, add some compost or well-rotted manure to the soil to improve nutrient levels. For the best results, plant your potatoes in raised beds or large pots filled with excellent potting mix if your soil is heavy clay or very sandy.
This guide provides a great rundown on specific potato soil conditions if you want more specific information.
3. Planting process
Planting potatoes is as basic as it gets for any gardener. Here’s how we plant them:
- To begin, “chit” or sprout your seed potatoes by placing them in a cool, light spot until little shoots appear.
- Excavate trenches 10-15 cm deep, with rows 30cm apart.
- Place the chitted potatoes in the trenches, shoots facing up, about 30cm apart inside the row.
- Cover the potatoes with soil, leaving the sprouts protruding through the surface.
- As the plants grow, “hill” them by placing extra soil around their bases to protect the emerging tubers from light.
Remember to water your potatoes regularly, especially during dry spells, and you’ll harvest your homegrown potatoes in no time!
Care and maintenance of potatoes
Caring for your potato plants in Melbourne is not just about planting them but also ensuring they get the right attention and care to yield a bountiful harvest. This section will guide you through essential care and maintenance tips to help your potatoes thrive, from watering and hilling to dealing with pests and diseases.
Watering and fertilising
Potatoes require continuous watering, approximately 25 to 50 millimetres per week, with more water required during hotter, drier months. Water your potatoes first thing in the morning to allow for evaporation and to avoid moist foliage at night, which can lead to illness.
I’ve had fantastic success with Australian organic fertilisers like Rooster Booster or Dynamic Lifter for fertilisation. Apply this during the planting process and again when the plants blossom.
Pest and Disease Management
Aphids and Colorado Potato Beetles are Melbourne’s most common pests damaging potatoes. You can distinguish Aphids by a sticky residue on the leaves or a black sooty mould, but the Colorado Potato Beetle is a yellow-orange bug with black stripes. Both can be handled with environmentally friendly insecticides or by introducing beneficial insects.
Late Blight is a widespread disease that causes black or brown patches on leaves. This can be controlled by using a copper-based fungicide. Crop rotation and garden hygiene can also help to prevent these problems.
Hilling, or mounding dirt around the base of your potato plants, is important because it protects the potatoes from sunburn and promotes more productive plants.
We recommend hilling when your plants are around 15 cm tall, adding dirt until only the top few leaves poke through. Repeat this technique every few weeks until the plant no longer grows taller.
When to harvest potatoes in Melbourne
Identifying when your potatoes are ready to pick may appear to be a difficult chore, but as someone who has been doing it for a while, I’m here to share my suggestions.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to harvesting your potatoes in Melbourne:
- Identify the signs: New potatoes are usually ready to harvest when the plant’s flowers bloom. This normally happens 10-12 weeks after planting. Wait until the plant’s foliage has fallen back before harvesting mature potatoes, which will take 15-20 weeks after planting, depending on the type.
- Choose the day: When it comes to harvesting, we recommend choosing a dry day. Wet potatoes have the potential to rot, which we do not want.
- Preparation: Cut back any remaining foliage to ground level and allow the potatoes to sit in the ground for a few more days to harden their skin. This will enable them to last longer after harvest.
- Digging: Now comes the exciting part! Begin excavating about a foot away from the plant’s base. Lift the soil gently with a garden fork, careful not to injure your prized potatoes.
- Harvest: Your buried treasure should be revealed as you lift the earth. After harvesting your potatoes, let them air dry for a few hours before storing them, effectively helping keep decay at bay.
Mistakes to avoid when harvesting
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of gardening, it’s that even the smallest error may have a major impact, especially when it comes to harvesting your potatoes.
Let me walk you through some common blunders to avoid:
Digging too soon or late
When it comes to picking potatoes, timing is everything. If you dig too soon, you’ll end up with little potatoes. If you leave the potatoes in the ground for too long, they may decay or acquire a rough skin. To get the time perfect, closely check the plants and search for the tell-tale symptoms I discussed before.
Using the wrong tools
When harvesting, avoid using a spade or a shovel. These tools have the potential to cut or bruise your potatoes. I’ve discovered that using a gardening fork or even your hands is the best bet.
Not handling carefully
Potatoes are soft and readily bruised or cut. Handle them cautiously during harvesting and avoid dropping them on harsh surfaces.
Skipping the curing process:
After harvesting, it’s essential to let your potatoes ‘cure’ or dry for a couple of hours in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated area. This step toughens up the potato’s skin, making it less prone to bruising and better for storage.
Washing before storing
Refrain from washing the soil off your potatoes before storing them. Moisture can cause early deterioration. Brush away any loose soil and keep it in a cold, dark, and dry location.
Remember these pointers, and you’ll be well on your way to a fruitful harvest!
The last thing you want is for your potatoes to go to waste after you’ve patiently cared for, harvested, and cured them. Proper potato storage is essential for extending the life of your potatoes.
Based on our personal experience producing potatoes in Melbourne, here are my top tips:
- Optimal environment: Potatoes should be stored in a cold, dark, and well-ventilated location. You should avoid storing them in the fridge since the low temperatures can convert the starch in the potato into sugar, resulting in a sweeter taste and discolouration when cooked.
- Avoid light exposure: Light can cause your potatoes to turn green and produce a solanine toxin. We recommend always keeping the spuds in a dark spot to avoid this.
- Separate the spuds: Separate your potatoes from your onions and apples. These fruits produce a gas that causes potatoes to sprout prematurely.
- Check regularly: Check your potatoes every few weeks for symptoms of rot or sprouting. When one potato rots, it swiftly spreads to the others.
Remember that these suggestions aren’t simply for keeping potatoes. It’s about enjoying the results of your labour for a longer period. Because nothing beats the taste of a potato you grew yourself, especially when it’s still great weeks later!
To conclude our Melbourne potato-growing guide, remember that planting time is critical – late August to early September is excellent. Choosing kinds native to your area, such as ‘Pontiac,’ ‘Desiree,’ or ‘Kestrel,’ helps ensure a robust crop. Proper maintenance, from watering to hilling, is beneficial, as is attentive pest and disease management. When the foliage turns yellow, it’s time to harvest; be patient and careful. Proper post-harvest storage extends the shelf life of your potatoes.
Even if your initial attempt is not as intended, each season gives fresh opportunities and information. So, why delay? Prepare to enjoy the fruits of your labour or the tubers!