Growing potatoes in Canberra

Owen Pidgeon
Potato and cheese gratin.
Potato and cheese gratin. 

Canberrans can enjoy a good range of potatoes available at the district markets and Ingelara still has a good supply of the wonderful  yellow fleshed, waxy potatoes at the weekly Saturday morning Capital Region Farmers' Market at EPIC. This local biodynamic farm has proved that you can grow and harvest excellent quality potatoes over a six to seven-month period.

If you set aside a garden bed of three square metres, you should be able to harvest between 40 and 60 kilograms of potatoes at the end of the growing season. Potatoes love to grow with plenty of direct sunshine and need good drainage.

For the home gardener, you can set yourself up well by digging plenty of compost and old manures into your garden bed. Add some blood and bone and loosen the soil to a depth of 25 to 30 centimetres. Potatoes are from the same family of vegetables as tomatoes and eggplants, so avoid soil-borne diseases and pests by following the four-year crop rotation. 

Nothing like the yellow-fleshed, waxy varieties of spuds.
Nothing like the yellow-fleshed, waxy varieties of spuds. 

Hilling up of the soil or providing a deep mulch for potatoes to grow in are the two main gardening options. However, with limited space, growing a small crop of potatoes inside a stack of car tyres or in a wooden barrel is another option.

Potatoes are pretty easy to grow but the quality of your preparation is vital to producing a good crop.   

This vegetable needs plenty of room for their root systems to spread out and produce many tubers, so allow space between each tuber. If they are too cramped, the roots will not produce many tubers and the tubers will grow only to a medium size. Ample space between plants sets you up to have a high yielding crop.

Plant your seed potatoes at least 10 centimetres  deep and then cover with plenty of soil or mulch to create an overall depth of around 25 centimetres.  . Space the tubers 25 to 30 centimetes apart and allow 75 centimetres  between rows.The sprouts of the new potatoes should burst forth out of the ground in about three weeks.  

When the shoots of the new potato plants are 10 to 15 centimetres high,  mound up the soil around each plant, leaving just  two to three centimetres of plant showing. Add a layer of mulch to keep the soil cool. If you able to, mound up the soil again when the plants have grown to 50 centimetres so that you have a generous cover of soil around the plants.And remember that close to 80 per cent of the new tubers will be produced above the height of the original planted tuber. 

Begin planting in late September or early October. Plantings can continue into early summer so that you will still have some to harvest as the winter approaches.


Regular watering is important, to keep the plants growing along well and afterwards to produce a good crop of well-shaped tubers. To keep them growing well, also provide a fortnightly dose of seaweed based foliar sprays.

When the plants are fully grown, they will produce a beautiful crop of white flowers. This heralds the major growth stage for the tubers undergrown.  In another three to four weeks, the lower leaves on the plants will begin turning yellow and your potatoes are getting close to the harvest stage. In fact, you can begin to carefully dig out by hand. from the side of the mounds, a few well-grown potatoes for your daily needs (often referred to as "bandicooting"). The skins of these early potatoes will still be soft so only take what you need and do not try to store them.

Stop all supplementary watering of potato plants after the leaves have yellowed. This will allow the tubers to dry out and harden their skins. Harvest the last of the crop once the plant has died (during autumn or early winter). Potatoes need to be fully mature if you wish to store them for later use (keep them in a cool, dry, dark place).

Some excellent yellow flesh potatoes are available here in Canberra.

Pink eyes: an early-maturing potato which can be planted as soon as the danger of frost has passed. It is a good baking potato that can be harvested in mid summer. Its creamy, yellow flesh has a buttery and chestnut flavour. 

Dutch cream: a superb waxy potato that cooks well and is easy to grow. Plant this variety out in late October or November and you will have a good early autumn harvest. 

Nicola: another large oblong-shaped potato with a rich yellow flesh. It is the potato of choice for gnocchi and potato salads and leek soup.

Bintje: a waxy potato  with small to medium-sized round  tubers and yellow flesh. Great for potato salads and chips.

Kipfler: a specialty potato with the shape of a spindly cigar. When boiled, serve with horseradish and Dijon mustard. 

Jacqueline: a high-yielding variety with oval-shaped, golden-skinned tubers.    

Potato and cheese gratin (tartiflette)

30g butter
1 brown onion
300g diced bacon
6 large waxy potatoes
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
300ml double cream
600g Reblochon or Gruyere cheese
½ cup parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C Boil the potatoes in their jackets in a large saucepan until tender. Allow to cool then cut into slices that are around 10 millimetres. Melt the butter in a deep frying pan and cook the onion until it is translucent. Add the diced bacon and cook for a further three minutes then add the potato slices. Season with salt and pepper and add the garlic then cook for a further six minutes.

Grease a large gratin dish and line the base of the dish with the potato mixture. Spoon cream generously over the mixture. Cut the cheese into thick slices and spread over the entire dish. Bake for about 20 minutes until the cheese has melted and is golden brown. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

This week in the garden

  • Plant out carrots and beetroot, celery and celeriac, loose-leaf lettuces and snow peas.
  • Begin preparing garden beds for the spreading plants. such as pumpkins and zucchinis by making some deep mounds of 1.2 – 1.5 metres in diameter, filled with plenty of compost and old manure.
  • Get a head start with propagating pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchinis and squash by planting two or three seeds per punnet and keeping them in a warm, sunny location.
  • Should you be experiencing bird problems with small plants, protect the garden beds with white vineyard netting or with a length of wire netting wrapped over the bed.
  • Check that any small fruit trees are secure in the ground, with ample soil over the roots. If necessary, hammer in a wooden or steel stake and secure using a wide leather strap around the tree. 

Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.